THE DAY REPLAYED – Football provides some moments which will live in the memory forever. Those who attended or watched today’s games at the FIFA Confederations Cup will certainly attest to that.

The 50,791 fans in Fortaleza welcoming A Seleção back to the Estadio Castelao after an absence of almost 13 years had an unforgettable experience as their beloved team took on Mexico. On a hot and humid Wednesday afternoon, the passionate, acappella singing of the Brazilian national anthem was almost tangible, further whetting the appetite for the FIFA World Cup™ next year. Fortaleza will host four group matches, plus a Round of 16 and quarter-final fixture. If today’s atmosphere is anything to go by, those fortunate enough to get a ticket for any of these games are in for a treat.

In the early stages Hulk, Marcelo and Neymar were visibly whipping up the crowd into frenzy - not that they needed to be – and when the goals went in, the noise levels increased still further. Later in the day, the action moved south east to Recife where there were seven goals to cheer. Those in the Arena Pernambuco witnessed arguably the game of the tournament so far as two Italian masters went head to head. Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni set Japan up perfectly to stop Andrea Pirlo and Italy as they raced into a 2-0 lead, but Cesare Prandelli’s decision to introduce Sebastian Giovinco turned the game around. His introduction gave the isolated Mario Balotelli a partner upfront and that helped Gli Azzurri score three times in 11 minutes, with the dimunitive Juve forward netting the winning goal four minutes from time. Only one other match in the tournament’s history has witnessed more goals: Brazil’s 8-2 win over Saudi Arabia in 1999.

Results
Group A
Brazil 2-0 Mexico (Neymar 9’, Jo 90+3’)
Italy 4-3 Japan (De Rossi 41, Uchida o.g.50’, Balotelli 52’ pen, Giovinco 86’;Honda pen 21’, Kagawa 33’, Okazaki 69’)

What it means…
The victories for Brazil and Italy mean that they have booked their place in the semi-finals, which take place on Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 June in Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza respectively. The two teams meet in Salvador on Saturday in what effectively is a play-off for the top spot in Group A, although the UEFA EURO 2012 side will have to win on account of the hosts’s superior goal difference.

Mexico and Japan will be playing for pride, although the Samurai Blue’s much-improved showing has further increased the anticipation for their return to Brazil next year. Their high-tempo, counter-attacking approach to the game, combined with their spirit has won them many admirers.

Goal of the day
Neymar (BRA)
Brazil have never lost a FIFA Confederations Cup match when they have scored the opening goal – and that continued today with a truly sublime strike. Mexico captain Francisco Rodriguez could only head Dani Alves’s cross straight into Neymar’s path and the Barcelona new boy met the ball with a left-footed volley which flew beyond the dive of Jose Corona. It was a moment of magic from the 21-year-old and a masterclass in terms of technique. Indeed, when the first replay was shown, the crowd gasped in admiration. The goalscorer turned provider in the third minute of added time when he evaded the attention of Hiram Mier and Rodriguez, shifted the ball from right foot to his left at pace and just as everyone expected him to shoot, he expertly picked out the run of substitute Jo who finished emphatically for the second game in succession.

Stat of the day
9 –
The win over Mexico was Brazil’s ninth consecutive FIFA Confederations Cup win, a new tournament record. They’re now unbeaten in ten consecutive matches, with their last defeat coming on this day eight years ago against El Tri.  

Quote of the day
"After the game I went to the dressing room to speak to Howard Webb, who I've known for a long time. He confessed to me: 'In all my years in football, I’ve never heard anything like that,’” Luiz Felipe Scolari relays a post-match conversation with 2010 FIFA World Cup Final referee Howard Webb, in which he revealed his  admiration for the singing of the Brazilian national anthem in Fortaleza.

What’s next?...
The focus switches to Group B on Thursday and starting the day is Tahiti’s first-ever game against European opposition when they face the might of world and European champions Spain at the Maracana. However, there will be some familiar faces for the two teams. In September 2009, Spain U-20 beat Tahiti U-20 8-0 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt. Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba both played for Spain in that match, while eight players in the current Tahiti squad represented the Oceania champions during that tournament.

Nigeria then face Uruguay in Salvador. The South Americans are unbeaten in their 11 competitive matches against African countries. They will be hoping to keep it that way as defeat may send them out of the competition. A win for the Super Eagles, however, will keep their hopes alive of them becoming the first African country to win the FIFA Confederations Cup.

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