My body is still shaking in excitement as I type out this article. BBC presenter Gary Lineker said the Italy-Japan game was the best match he has seen for a long while, and entertainment-wise nobody is going to argue with that.
Seven goals. Two very ambiguous and debatable penalties. Numerous times of hitting the post.
Italy had trailed by two, equalised, led, got caught up, and then led again.
Even Cesare Prandelli admitted that his side ‘struggled like crazy’ in his post-match interview with Rai Sport.
This isn’t the first time Italy’s performance has flopped in the second match of group stage.
While the Azzurri are traditionally known to be slow-starters, tonight is actually the first time they have won the second game of the group stages in any major tournament since Euro 2000.
Here are all the second games of group stage of major tournaments (World Cup, Euro, Confederations Cup) since Euro 2000 that Italy have played:
2002 World Cup, Group G - Italy 1-2 Croatia
While Christian Vieri took the lead for the Azzurri in 55min, the Croatians hit back with two in the 73rd and 76th minute.
Pippo Inzaghi scored in the final minute, only to be incorrectly ruled offside by the officials. The beginning of Italy’s problem with referee rulings during the tournament.
Euro 2004, Group C - Italy 1-1 Sweden
Again, Italy took the led with Antonio Cassano’s goal at 37th minute, but the match will be forever remembered as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s message to the world when he scored with a back heel chip in 85th minute to equalise for the Swedes.
This led to the infamous 2-2 score between Sweden and Denmark in the final game of the group stage, and also earned Ibrahimovic a ticket to Turin in the next season.
2006 World Cup, Group E - Italy 1-1 USA
Alberto Gilardino scored in the 22nd minute, but an own goal from Cristian Zaccardo meant the match ended in a draw.
The Italians could be forgiven for not winning this though, considering Daniele De Rossi was sent off in 28min.
Euro 2008, Group C - Italy 1-1 Romania
After being demolished by the Dutch in the opening game, the Azzurri did not have a good start when Serie A hitman and former Chelsea forward Adrian Mutu opened the score after 55 minutes.
Luckily for them, Christian Panucci hit the back of the net a minute later. The Italians were really lucky when Gianluigi Buffon saved a penalty from Mutu at the end of the match, giving them the slight chance of qualifying still (and they did).
2009 Confederations Cup, Group B - Egypt 1-0 Italy
It was the shock of the tournament at that time, especially when Italy triumphed over USA in the first game with an astounding 3-1 performance. Marcello Lippi should have devoted more time into changing his tactics and choosing better players to play, if he wanted the reigning world champion to achieve something in 2010.
2010 World Cup, Group F - Italy 1-1 New Zealand
Undoubtedly Italy’s most embarrassing game in recent times.
Really, they should have won this game, and I will argue this match marks the end of Lippi’s second reign, before Italy were thrashed by Slovakia in the next game and bowed out of the World Cup with only two points.
Euro 2012, Group C - Italy 1-1 Croatia
Pirlo opened the score (with a free kick, what else), and later - Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic equalised in the 73rd minute.
After this game Prandelli abandoned the 3-5-2 system that worked so well against Spain in the opening game and switched back to 4-3-1-2, as the game exposed several problems, particularly the confusion of each central defender’s role.
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