Brazil and Italy advanced to the Confederations Cup soccer semifinals with a game to spare by maintaining 100 percent records at the eight-team competition.
Tournament host Brazil, the defending champion, moved into the final four with a 2-0 victory against Mexico yesterday before Italy rallied from two goals down to beat Japan 4-3 in the late game.
Neymar, who completed a 57 million euro ($75.5 million) transfer to Spanish champion Barcelona before the tournament, was Brazil’s match winner. The 21-year-old striker opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a left-foot volley and beat two defenders before crossing for Jo to score in stoppage time at the end of the game at Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza.
“For the moment, results-wise at least, everything has gone as we’d hoped,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari told reporters. “We’ve got a few things to work on, but I’d like to highlight the spirit, togetherness and strength of this group.”
Sebastian Giovinco’s 86th-minute goal for Italy broke a 3-3 tie at Recife’s Arena Pernambuco minutes after Japan twice struck the frame of the goal.
The Asian champion had led 2-0 on first-half goals from Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa before Daniele De Rossi’s header and an own goal by Atsuto Uchida either side of the break made it 2-2. Mario Balotelli’s 52nd-minute penalty kick then put Italy ahead before Shinji Okazaki tied it with 20 minutes left.
“To be trailing 2-0 inside 25 minutes was tough to deal with, but we understood what we had to do and got back into the game,” said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. “We showed great courage by winning, but we’ll have to be better organized and less careless as we continue on.”
Two straight defeats mean Japan and Mexico can’t advance from Group A at the competition, which is a test event for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. Mexico faces Japan and Brazil takes on Italy to decide the group winner on June 22.
World champion Spain is aiming for its second straight win when it meets Tahiti in a Group B match in Rio de Janeiro today, while Nigeria plays Uruguay later in Salvador. The top two in each four-team pool advance to the semifinals.
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