Japan takes on Italy, hopes to avoid early exit from cup

Japan takes on Italy, hopes to avoid early exit from cup

RECIFE, Brazil - Agence France-Presse
Japan takes on Italy, hopes to avoid early exit from cup

Japanese national football team, nicknamed ‘The Blue Samurai,’ suffered a bitter 3-0 defeat to host Brazil in its 2013 Confederations Cup opener. Japan will try to avoid an early exit from the competition. AP photo

The task facing both Asian champions Japan and three-time world champions Italy is clear cut in Recife at the Confederations Cup.

An Italian win, on the heels of Sunday’s success over Olympic champions Mexico should propel the Azzurri into the semi-finals, while also ending the Blue Samurais’ interest in this summer’s event.

The pressure is off Japan to a large extent in that, aside from World Cup and Confederations hosts Brazil they are the only side competing here who have already booked their tickets for next summer’s jamboree.

In going down 3-0 to the Brazilians in the opening match, Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japanese showed the effects of a long, yet successful, qualifying World Cup campaign - they only arrived 72 hours after seeing off Iraq in the Gulf.

They also showed - AS Zaccheroni tacitly admitted - that they are at this stage a work in progress with 12 months to plan next year’s assault.

“What we must not do is repeat the mistakes of the Brazil game,” said midfielder Yasuhito Endo. “But don’t judge us on that game.”

Defender Yuto Nagatomo, who plays for Serie A side Inter Milan, said he and his teammates would have to get to grips with Mario Balotelli, who proved a handful for Mexico and who scored the winner in that game to see the Italians join Brazil on three points.

And Nagatomo said slyly

that he figures there is one way to do so - niggle the temperamental striker.

Balotelli is already carrying a needless booking into the match having taken off his shirt after his goal Sunday.

And Nagatomo says that “while he is very quick and physical we must mark him tightly and above all get under his skin. He is always in the thick of things but he has a short fuse. It will be a mental battle for him.”

Japan earlier arrived in Recife from Brasilia and had no injuries to report. Keisuke Honda got over a hip problem that saw him miss a Saturday training session and skipper Makoto Hasebe shook off a sore ankle.

Hosts against Mexico

Meanwhile, Brazil will meet Mexico tonight.

Brazil left back Marcelo says his side will not be seeking revenge when they renew acquaintance with Mexico in their second game of the Confederations Cup in Fortaleza.

The last encounter between teams representing the two countries saw Mexico shock the five-time world champions with a 2-1 victory in the final of the men’s football competition at the London Olympics last year.

It was a crushing defeat for Brazil, who have never claimed Olympic gold, but Marcelo said those involved had quickly put it behind them.

“The Mexico defeat didn’t stick in my throat. I don’t see this match as a chance for revenge,” said the Real Madrid defender, who was one of three permitted players aged over 23 in Brazil’s Olympic squad.

“We know that Mexico have great players, but we’re Brazil and we have some, too. We can think that the match will be difficult, but they have to think that as well.”