Italy 4 (De Rossi 41, Uchida o.g. 50, Balotelli pen. 52, Giovinco 86)
Japan 3 (Honda pen. 21, Kagawa 33, Okazaki 69)
Arena Pernambuco, Recife. Temp. 23°C, wind 2 mph, passing clouds. Referee: Diego Abal (Argentina)
Italy: Buffon, Barzagli, Chiellini, De Sciglio, De Rossi, Pirlo, Aquilani (Giovinco 30), Montolivo, Maggio (Abate 59), Giaccherini (Marchisio 68), Balotelli.
Japan: Kawashima, Konno, Uchida (Sakai H. 73), Yoshida, Nagatomo, Endo, Hasebe (Nakamura 90+1), Okazaki, Honda, Maeda (Havenaar 79), Kagawa.
It was a topsy turvy game between Italy and Japan in front of over forty thousand fans in Recife with Japan forging ahead before Italy pegged them back and took a lead of their own only for Japan to strike back and just when it looked set to end all square the Italians grabbed a dramatic late winner. The result puts Italy into the semi finals along with hosts Brazil and eliminates the Japanese as well as Mexico.
Japan were handed the chance to take the lead in the twentieth minute Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon brought down Shinji Okazaki inside the box. Buffon escaped with a yellow card, but he wasn’t able to save the resulting penalty from CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke Honda. Manchester United’s midfield maestro Shinji Kagawa doubled the lead some thirteen minutes later with a well executed left-foot volley from the edge of the box to leave the Italians up against it. However, they got themselves into the game shortly before half time through a set piece. Andrea Pirlo’s corner was converted by Daniele De Rossi with a powerful header.
Italy started the second half strongly and turned the game around with two goals in as many minutes. Firstly Atsuto Uchida put through his own net when failing to deal with a cross from Giaccherini and then Italy won a penalty of their own when Makoto Hasebe handled inside the area. Mario Balotelli once again showed his reliability from the spot in sending the goalkeeper the wrong way for his second goal of the tournament and to complete the turn around by giving Italy a 3-2 lead.
The game then quietened down for a while as Japan’s defence restored order following a tempestuous few minutes and they began to push forwards again in search of an equaliser. It eventually came in the sixty ninth minute when a free kick from Gamba Osaka’s Yasuhito Endo was headed in by Shinji Okazaki. Japan pushed hard for the winner in the final twenty minutes and went close on several occasions, hitting the woodwork twice as Italy started to rock once again, but in typical fashion it was the Italians who snatched the late winner against the run of play when Giovinco got on to the end of a cross from Marchisio to make it 4-3. There was still time for Japan to rally and they had a goal ruled out for offside in the final moments before the final whistle gave the relieved looking Italians their three points.
Six points from their opening two games puts Italy level with Brazil at the top of Group A so the only thing riding on their meeting in the final group game is who finishes in first and second place. Japan and Mexico are now both out of the competition with zero points from their opening games so their final match is now a dead rubber to decide who comes bottom of the group.