Starting with a very defensive lineup, it took Italy nearly an entire half and falling behind 2-0 in order to get a grip of the kind of opponents they were facing in Japan, but eventually, thanks to a lot more efficiency inside the box and one substitution, putting in Sebastian Giovinco, also scoring the winning goal, the Italians won 4-3 in the best match of the tournament so far, clinching a spot in the semifinal.
Japan go down deserving all the compliments, and especially to Keisuke Honda, who scored the opening goal through a penalty that shouldn’t have been called (but the referee made a reprisal mistake later on), showing that all the interest in him from clubs outside of Russia is genuine, and probably any club that manages to get their hands on him will benefit from a fantastic player.
Italy? Prandelli started with a slow lineup, but it took him less than 40 minutes to realize he isn’t going anywhere with Alberto Aquliani, deciding to add some speed next to Andrea Pirlo, throwing in the Atomic Ant, Sebastian Giovinco. Giovinco hardly touched the ball for most of his time on the pitch, but his speed and presence kept the weak Japanese defense quite busy, giving Italy an attacking dimension they didn’t have earlier on.
Eventually, Daniele De Rossi, one of the worst players on the pitch up to that point (the 41st minute), scored from a corner kick. Italy began taking over the pitch, and the moment Japan relied on their defense to keep them in the match, it seemed like they were doomed.
A fluke play from Giaccherini, somehow keeping the ball in play, led to the equalizer early in the second half, as Atsuto Uchida tried to prevent a pass from reaching Mario Balotelli inside the five yard box, but ended up scoring an own goal. Two minutes later, Mario Balotelli extended his perfect resume from the penalty spot, as Italy got a penalty they didn’t deserve, just like we promised earlier on.
From here, the best sequences of football ensued for around 30 minutes, as the Japanese side forgot about their terrible start to the second half and resumed playing some of the best football we’ve seen in this tournament, thanks to the creativity and vision of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, looking quick, fresh and filled with ingenuity whenever trapped by the predictable Italian defense.
It was striker Shinji Okazaki in the 69th minute that scored the equalizer, giving Japan a deserved tie. From here on out it was more Japanese pressure, some Gianluigi Buffon saves and a few terrible misses by both Kagawa and Okazaka, and you know what happens when you don’t score.
An Italian counter attack took advantage of the super-weak Japanese defense, with Japan trying a bit too hard to score the winner, leaving too much space exposed in the back. Claudio Marchisio, coming on in the second half (probably a bit too late), found his Juventus teammate to score the winner in the 85th minute.
Italy haven’t looked too impressive when you add their first two matches together, but this team is going to give Brazil and whoever they meet in the semifinal a lot of trouble, as long as Prandelli doesn’t use such a defensive and slow lineup like the one he chose to start with in the match.