Italy defeated Uruguay 3-2 on penalties in the Confederations Cup third place playoff on Sunday. The match finished 2-2 after extra time, with Napoli striker Edinson Cavani earning a brace. However, it wasn’t enough as Davide Astori and Alessandro Diamanti got on the score sheet before Gianluigi Buffon made three saves in the shootout to clinch bronze for the Italians.
Coach Cesare Prandelli was forced to make a tactical change, which included a different formation and four additions due to injury. Mattia De Sciglio returned to the starting eleven while Davide Astori replace the injured Andrea Barzagli to form a back four with Giorgio Chiellini and Christian Maggio. Diamanti was slotted in on the right wing with Stephan El Shaarawy featuring on the left to mirror Uruguay’s 4-3-3 system.
Italy dominated the early phases of the match with six shots to La Celeste’s one. The opener arrived through a Diamanti free kick from the right side of the box. The Bologna playmaker knocked it into the area, but appeared to put too much power into the attempt. The ball bounced off the far post, off of Fernando Muslera’s back, and into the net. Initially, FIFA credited the goal to Astori, but, thanks to goal-line technology, eventually reversed their decision and gave it to Diamanti.
It marked the first incident where goal line technology was finally put to the test. The 2012 Club World Cup was the first FIFA tournament to use it, but never had a decision to make. It took nearly 30 minutes to finally confirm the decision in the Confederations Cup playoff, but thankfully this was done during the match. Surely when the World Cup rolls around, the decision will be much quicker and shouldn’t interfere with the tempo of a game. Nonetheless, history was made, and football has long waited for this to happen.
The Azzurri outshot Uruguay 11-8 after the first half and had the majority of possession, but couldn’t get that second incisive goal. The second half began much sloppier for the Italians and the South Americans took advantage of some lackadaisical passing. Astori initially gave the ball away, but Maggio tried to win back possession. In doing so, he coughed it up to Walter Gargano, who then found Cavani with a through ball, and the 2013 Capocannoniere winner made no mistake, slotting the ball past an outstretched Buffon.
With a little over 15 minutes remaining, Italy received an opportunity to clinch the victory. Gargano fouled El Shaarawy from just outside the Uruguayan box, giving Diamanti another chance to deliver a goal from a set piece. He would do just that, placing the ball in the top right corner past Muslera to earn the lead once again for the Azzurri in the 73rd minute.
However, Uruguay wouldn’t go away. Just five minutes after Italy regained the advantage, Cavani stood over the ball on a free kick. He replicated what Diamanti accomplished and fired it high over the outstretched arms of Buffon. Cavani had previously scored just twice against the shot-stopper in his career, he matched that total in just under a half hour.
Extra time didn’t provide a whole lot of drama, although Riccardo Montolivo received a second booking for a foul on Luis Suarez as he stormed towards the opposition box. Replays showed that Montolivo may have withdrawn his challenge just prior to making contact according to what the referee saw, but his minor protests failed and he walked off the pitch, reducing Italy to 10 men for the remainder of the period. The Nazionale managed to hold on and send the match to a penalty shootout.
Diego Forlan was the first to step up. He had missed a penalty in the semi-final against Brazil thanks to a Julio Cesar save, but, in truth, it was a poor attempt. Forlan once again failed to convert and placed it just right of the centre of the goal, leaving Buffon with an easy save. Alberto Aquilani buried his spot kick to make it 1-0 for Italy after one round.
Cavani executed what Forlan couldn’t and scored Uruguay’s first penalty of the shootout. El Shaarawy made it two for two, then Suarez leveled the affair at two. De Sciglio then botched his attempt which Muslera easily stopped, but Martin Caceres’ shot was just as poor and Buffon kept it out. It remained 2-2 until Emanuele Giaccherini converted, leaving Uruguay to their final shooter.
Gargano, the man who assisted the opening goal for La Celeste and conceded the foul leading to Italy’s second, stepped up to undo his wrong. However, it was all for not and he was stopped by Buffon.
Italy became the second team in Confederations Cup history to compete in two shootouts since Mexico in the 1995 tournament. Unlike the semi-final, they emerged victorious and claimed a bronze medal, which is their best ever finish in the competition.
There is a clear transition taking place with Prandelli’s squad. They’ve become a far more entertaining and attacking side than in the past. This is no longer the score-early-and-defend Italian national team, it’s a revitalized side, and, despite the defensive issues, have the tactical flexibility for it to be tweaked and improved come the World Cup next year. The Azzurri may not win it all, but they’ll be in the mix and won’t be easy to beat. Watch out for those pesky Italians next summer.