Confederations Cup Diary - Thats The Way To Do It!
Brazil and Italy booked their semi-final tickets but there was some frustration and drama aplenty along the way.Neymar certainly showed that he can play, inspiring the host nation to victory over Mexico, while Italy recovered from a nightmare start to beat Japan in what was undoubtedly the game of the tournament so far. If anybody serves up anything better between now and the final on June 30 it will be well worth seeing. By going with the same side which beat Japan so easily at the weekend, Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari signalled that he knows what his best team is and, on the evidence of their early play, his faith is not misguided. A Marcelo was shot saved, Oscar had a goal disallowed, then the seemingly mandatory Neymar screamer whistled into the back of the net, all inside the first ten minutes. Once again, with the game still in its infancy, it looked like it was just a matter of how many goals Brazil might score. OK, I didn't quite need to get my abacus out of the loft but did anyone seriously doubt the outcome? A bit of fannying around in the box and the subsequent scramble presented Mexico with a shooting opportunity but Mier shot wide. And when faced with a free-kick a few minutes later, the much-maligned David Luiz got in no fewer than three important defensive headers as the Mexicans sought to exert some pressure. Thereafter, normal service was resumed. Neymar fired one just over the top, David Luiz got a bit of a bump on the beak when winning another header, Hulk was guilty of an aimless solo charge through the middle when he had a couple of passing options and, just like Saturday, Brazil went into the interval no more than a solitary goal ahead. Hulk and Neymar both blasted shots off target when they should've done better and, with the scoreline unchanged, I began to get a bit pissed off at Brazil's complacency. David Luiz once more came to his team's rescue when he got to a low cross from Dos Santos just ahead of Chicarito and, as the game began to open up, a great run from Paulinho presented Neymar with another chance but goalkeeper Corona did well to save. Still Brazil gave the impression they were holding so much back. Just as I was ready to grudgingly settle for 1-0, Neymar waved his magic wand again, wriggled in from the left and set up Jo who made it another goalscoring appearance from the subs bench. Pick it out, keeper! Game over. It was a long time coming. I'll bet the celebrations extended well beyond the pitch and the stadium. The authorities will have been mighty glad nothing went wrong against Mexico because, with the people taking to the streets to protest against rampant inflation and the cost to the public purse of staging the Confederations Cup, the World Cup and the Olympics - plus a forthcoming papal visit! - the last thing they needed was an angry fitba crowd. My immediate thoughts were that Brazil would need to step up a gear for the group decider against Italy on Saturday...then I watched the Italians sleepwalk through the bulk of the first half against Japan!!! For so long they just weren't at the races. A Maida header forced a good save from Buffon, Endo shot wide and a powerful drive from Kagawa made the keeper stretch to turn the ball over the crossbar, then Okazaki went down when he and Buffon contested a slack ball from De Sciglio. It was the softest of penalties but there was nothing soft about Honda's shot from the spot. Having ruled that Buffon was guilty of a foul, the ref's decision to settle for a yellow card had me wondering if they've changed the rules about the last man denying a goalscoring opportunity. Against Mexico at the weekend Barzagli looked a cert to see red when he brought down Dos Santos, yet the ref only showed yellow and, while I don't think Buffon committed a foul, the ref did, so why didn't he show red? I've been following this funny old game for more than fifty years now but I don't think I'll ever understand referees. And I was struggling to understand this Italian team who couldn't even be shaken out of their lethargy by the Jap's dodgy penalty. A looping ball dropping out of the sky was met on the turn by Kagawa and it was 2-0 after 32 minutes. Balotelli won't like this, I thought. He'll either spark off a fightback or land a dull yin on somebody. As it turned out Daniele Di Rossi was the man who inspired the fightback when he headed home a Pirlo corner in the 40th minute, then Giaccherini hit the post before the interval. The game had turned and the Italians didn't take too much longer to get their noses in front. Giaccherini robbed Yoshida on the dead-ball line to present Balotelli with a tap in, only for Uchida to take the ball of the big man's toe to score an own goal. But Super Mario wasn't to be denied for long. Hasebe handled the ball in the box, it was another soft penalty and Balotelli duly did the business. Seven minutes into the second half Italy had bounced back and now looked like rattling in a few more. But Japan weren't the soft touches they were against Brazil at the weekend. The TV boys spoke about the Japs being tired after bringing forward a number of World Cup qualifiers to accommodate the Confederations Cup. They certainly appeared to have benefitted from a few days rest. Okazaki got on to the end of an Endo free-kick to level the scores with a near post header and both Okazaki and Kagawa struck the woodwork as the Italians looked rattled again. The closing stages resembled a basketball game as play switched from one end to the other. Substitute Giovinco grabbed what proved to be the winner four minutes from the end but still the Japs refused to lie down and Hasebe had a goal disallowed right at the death. What a game, not the sort of stuff which makes a coach's life any more comfortable but exactly what every true football fan wants to see in a match. Mind you, I'm not sure it was enough to divert the Brazilian people's minds away from their social problems, nor am I convinced that too many Jambos were able to take their heads out of the oven to enjoy it. Aye, karma sure is a bitch!!! Tonight it is all about how ruthless or how lenient Spain want to be against Tahiti, then Group B's second semi-final slot is on the line when Uruguay meet Nigeria. It wouldn't surprise me if Spain rested all their big names for the formality of seeing off Tahiti but Uruguay v Nigeria looks fascinating. My money is on Suarez and Cavani to set up an all-South American semi-final with Brazil, with the prospect of Spain v Italy in the other semi being equally appealing.
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