Teams: Italy v Japan
Date: 19 June 2013
Venue: Arena Pernambuco
It seems almost unfair that Japan could be bidding sayonara to the Confederations Cup tonight.
The Samurai Blue tried so hard against Brazil in their first match, and were unlucky to go down 3-0.
Their squad of quick thinking, fleet footed youngsters is hard not to like, making them many neutrals favourites to fight on in Brazil.
But if they lose to Italy tonight, it’s tickets for Japan. And the Azzurri will surely do everything in their considerable power to book their own ticket out of Group A in Recife.
Ahead of the game, there is much mutual respect between the beaten European Championship finalists and the Asian champions.
Italy star Daniele De Rossi has earmarked Manchester United schemer as the Japanese player to watch.
"I only know three or four Japanese players and the most talked about is the one that plays for Manchester United, Kagawa, he is the star," De Rossi told reporters on Tuesday.
"I think they are well organised and I think that means they will be dangerous."
Coach Cesare Prandelli meanwhile, is wary of Japan’s canny Italian manager, Alberto Zaccheroni.
"They have a great coach who can use the players' qualities to the best of their abilities," Prandelli said.
"He is also very good at putting out balanced teams. They are good players with good concentration and commitment and it is a very interesting team."
For his part, Zaccheroni says he has tasked his Samurai warriors with shutting down the destructive “axis” that exists between Italy stars Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli.
"We are going to focus on Pirlo and Balotelli but not exclusively, as they have great players all over the field," Zaccheroni said.
"But clearly that ... axis linking Pirlo to Balotelli is important for Italy's game and when they have the ball we will aim to pressure them.
"It will be important for us to close them down and make it harder for Balotelli to receive the ball and force Pirlo to hold on to the ball longer and look for another player to pass to."
Zaccheroni admits that “Italy are stronger than Japan on paper”, but he holds out hope that if his side performs to their buzzing best, they can shock their pedigreed European opponents, to prolong their participation in the Confed Cup.