Quick-fire Italy send Japan packing (3:2)
The Italians made a dream start when Emiliano Moretti, the only player in the starting eleven to ply his trade at a foreign club, released Giuseppe Sculli down the left wing. Sculli delivered an inch-perfect cross for Daniele de Rossi, whose spectacular side volley 11 yards out gave Japanese goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata no chance (0-1, 3').
Japan strived to get a foothold in the game, but the Squadra Azzurra refused to relent. Young sensation Alberto Gilardino, who scored the vital equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Ghana, lost Teruyuki Moniwa in the area before poking the pall into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot from 14 yards (0-2, 8'). After conceding four in their opening match against Paraguay, Japanese plans to give a solid defensive performance were left in tatters inside ten minutes.
The Asian team had their first real sight of goal after 18 minutes, but the deflected shot was held by athletic Italian goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli at the second opportunity (18). At the other end, Gilardino almost doubled his tally with an attempted lob over Sogahata.
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The European team were lethal on the attack: Moretti whipped in a dream cross to Gilardino in the Japanese penalty and the in-form striker made no mistake from ten yards, calmly slotting the ball home for his third of the tournament (1-3, 36'). Japan's strikeforce continued to cause problems for the Italian rearguard, Okubo's accurate header forcing a fantastic save from Pelizzoli (41). Two minutes later, the lively number 16 tested the Italian shotstopper again with a left-footed drive.
Japan maintained the pressure after the interval, pushing the Italians back towards their own goal, but chances were few and far between. The game became a little flat as Italy protected their 3-1 advantage by stifling the pace of the game. In the latter stages, however, they mustered a final flourish, Daniela Bonera's cross from the right-hand side forcing Japan's defence into action (84). The Japanese responded through the irrepressible Okubo, only for his control to let him down in front of goal (85).
Daiki Takamatsu ensured a dramatic three minutes of added time when he bundled Abe's free-kick across the line (2-3, 90+). Italy managed to hold on for victory though, ending Japan's hopes of reaching the quarter-finals after two defeats.
Japan coach Masakuni Yamamoto remained positive after the final whistle: "All of my players have accumulated valuable experience. We played well in both games. That will benefit us for the 2006 FIFA World Cup."
Italy look forward to 'cup final' against Paraguay
Italian coach Claudio Gentile was already looking forward after his side's narrow victory: "We know that Japan had recently won the Asia Cup and would be tough opponents. Now we have a cup final against Paraguay."
Gilardino, whose two goals proved a major contribution to the victory added: "It was a good game. I'm very happy. We controlled the game after going ahead 3-1. Now we are looking ahead to the game against Paraguay."
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter said of the encounter: "The game was played at a very high tempo in the first half. Japan were a little too impetuous going forward. Italy's players are all professionals and controlled the game in the second half. It was a fantastic, entertaining game for the fans tonight."