23 June 2013 12:27
It was a slow burner but ultimately Brazil v Italy lived up to expectations.   LITTLE BOY BLUE'S CONFEDERATIONS CUP DIARY   The host nation finished on top of the group, thanks to their 4-2 win in Salvador, and will now meet Uruguay in the semi-final, leaving the Italians plotting a vengeance mission when they meet Spain in a re-match of the Euro2012 final.   I had just settled down on the couch when it took a superb Chiellini tackle to halt Oscar in his tracks, then Hulk forced a good save from Buffon.  The game was just 46 seconds old!  I thought, this is going to be well worth watching.  Balotelli didn't quite connect properly with a Marchisio cut-back, while Neymar uncharacteristically shot wide when he really should have hit the target but, after an action-packed start, the first half was a big disappointment.   An injury to David Luiz had resulted in Dante coming on as a 34th minute substitute and he made his presence felt by opening the scoring at the tail end of the first half.  A Neymar free-kick was met by Fred, his header was saved by Buffon but Dante was first to react and turned the ball into the net from a tight angle.   The goal lifted the game.  Without it, both sides would have been inclined to carry on regardless, Brazil content in the knowledge that a draw was enough to keep them on top of the group, Italy happy to keep it tight and hope Balotelli might do a bit of damage on the break.   They drew level six minutes into the second half.  A long clearance from Buffon was glanced on by Maggio, Baltotelli held off Dante to get a delicious touch to the ball, sending Giaccherini racing clean through on goal and he shot low past Julio Cesar into the corner of the net.   The game really got going now.  In the 55th minute Neymar went down when challenged by Maggio, the referee bought it and Neymar made it three goals in three games when he curled a right foot shot around the wall, past the helpless Buffon.    Anything he can do, I can do better, said Mario Balotelli.  He lined up a 35 yard free-kick, he got it up and over the wall, then it dipped in on goal, forcing Julio Cesar to stretch to tip it over.  Then Dante grappled Balotelli as he tried to turn in the box but the ref waved away his claims for a penalty.   It looked like Brazil had wrapped it up after 66 minutes when Fred took a pass from Marcelo and, although Chiellini was all over him, the striker shrugged off the challenge and battered the ball past Buffon.  Full marks to Fred for staying on his feet when he could so easily have gone down and settled for a penalty.   But still the Italians refused to wilt.  Five minutes later the Brazilian defence was all over the place when trying to deal with a Candreva corner kick, Luiz Gustavo tried to rip Balotelli's short off his back and the ref pointed to the penalty spot just as Chiellini stabbed the ball into the net.  Ach, I'll just give a goal, says the ref.  Don't get me started on referees!!!   A Maggio header smashed against the crossbar as Italy chased the equaliser but they were killed off in the last minute when Buffon parried a shot from Marcelo and Fred was in the perfect position to bury the rebound.   At 35, Gianluigi Buffon's best days are behind him and, with Italy having conceded eight goals in three games in Brazil, there must be concerns about the goalkeeping position.  When he saved Marcelo's last minute shot he looked like a drunk man who had just fallen off a bar-stool as he tried to get to Fred's follow-up.  We all know about goalkeepers getting better with age but, a year from now, he'll be a year stiffer and a year slower.  I don't think Italy want to be going into a World Cup without 100% faith in their goalkeeper.   Elsewhere, Mexico beat Japan 2-1, thanks to two goals from ManUre's Chicarito but only a harshly disallowed goal when Okazaki turned Endo's shot into the net and some rank bad luck denied the Japs more than Okazaki's late consolation goal.  Chicarito missed a chance to complete his hat-trick when his injury time penalty was saved by keeper Kawashima but both nations have done enough in the Confederations Cup to suggest they are perfectly capable of causing problems for opponents when they return to Brazil next summer.   Now attention switches to Group B.  With Italy lying in wait in the semi-finals, it will be interesting to see what team Vicente del Bosque goes with against Nigeria.  And will Uruguay go for the jugular against Tahiti, with Cavani and Suarez in need of a goalfest to lift confidence prior to their clash with Brazil?   Wednesday night can't come soon enough for me.    LITTLE BOY BLUE