Despite their defeats in the semi-finals of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil, the mood in the Italian and Uruguayan camps is far from downcast. La Nazionale only went down to reigning European and world champions Spain in sudden death of an epic penalty shoot-out, while La Celeste spurned several opportunities to end the host nation’s hopes before succumbing to a late header from Paulinho.
As a result, there are not too many long faces in either squad, with the nations’ showings at this competition producing many positive conclusions ahead of the remainder of their qualifying campaigns for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. And now, with the pressure largely off but with accumulated fatigue sure to be a factor, Italy and Uruguay are preparing to battle it out for third place at Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova.
Joy mixed with sadness
It is only natural that Cesare Prandelli and his valiant charges harbour some regrets after being denied a final spot by Spain. After all, a gruelling encounter was only decided by the very narrowest of margins. Regardless, the overall vibe in the Squadra Azzurra is one of satisfaction after a job well done, as testified to by several Italian players speaking exclusively to FIFA.com.
First to speak was defender Leonardo Bonucci who, despite his decisive miss in the shoot-out, was clearly content with the lessons learned at Brazil 2013. “Taking everything into account, we’re pleased because we really gave the world champions a difficult time,” said the Juventus man. “We’ve laid some good foundations for next year’s World Cup and what we need to do now is to persevere and keep working the way we’ve been doing.”
In the view of Alberto Gilardino, drafted into Italy’s attack against La Roja in the absence of Mario Balotelli, what has mattered most about this Brazilian adventure is the experience gained and the high points of a creditable campaign. “In footballing terms, it’s been interesting and enriching for us,” said the 31-year-old Bologna striker. “And, what’s more, I’ve loved Brazil. We’ve travelled a lot, seen new stadiums and experienced a great atmosphere. The Brazilian people’s passion is contagious. It’s been very emotional.”
Also chipping in was Emmanuele Giaccherini, one of the outstanding performers at Brazil 2013 and a scorer of two goals. For the Juventus wide-player, La Nazionale can head for home with their heads held high, but not without first signing off with a flourish in Salvador: “It’ll be difficult, because we’ve not had much time to rest, but we really want to finish third. Of course it’s not the same as playing in the final, but we need to show respect for this important competition right until the very last moment.”
Nor will Uruguay be taking Sunday’s game lightly, with Los Charrúas known for their pride in the national-team jersey and their determination to fly their country’s flag high. “Every time we pull on the Celeste shirt we want to win and claiming third place would really mean a lot to us,” said Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, one of the candidates in the running for the adidas Golden Ball. “What’s more, it still rankles that we didn’t finish on the podium at South Africa 2010, when we lost to Germany.”
Team-mate Diego Godin spoke along similar lines, while stating that the manner of defeat against Brazil in the last four makes the match for third place all the more important. “It was really painful for us all, because we came so close to reaching the final,” said the Atletico Madrid defender, before turning to opponents Italy, against whom Uruguay have a record of three wins, two draws and two defeats. “All we’re thinking about now is beating Italy. Finishing fourth is not the same as finishing third.”
Both sets of players have therefore made it abundantly clear that, even though they will not be in the running to lift the trophy in Estadio do Maracana, they can leave Brazil satisfied with their overall displays – but not without giving their utmost to end the competition on a high note. And nor is there any doubt that the fans set to flock to the Arena Fonte Nova are sure to be treated to a spectacle of the highest quality, in line with the performances of Italy and Uruguay throughout this competition.