Italy bid to avoid Spain semi-final clash

Italy and Brazil will be battling to avoid the daunting likelihood of a semi-final against world champions Spain when they meet in Salvador on Saturday to contest top spot in Confederations Cup Group A.

Italy bid to avoid Spain semi-final clash
Italy midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo. Photo: Nelson Almeida/AFP

Both sides secured places in the last four with a game to spare, Brazil after a Neymar-inspired 2-0 defeat of Mexico, Italy following a nail-biting 4-3 success against Japan.

With Spain three points clear in Group B, Brazil's superior goal difference means that Italy will probably have to win at the Arena Fonte Nova if they are to avoid Vicente del Bosque's side in the semi-finals.

Although Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said he would "probably keep the same team" for the Italy encounter, Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli suggested fitness concerns would force his own hand.

Italy had just two full days to prepare for the Japan fixture, and after an energy-sapping, end-to-end encounter in Recife, Prandelli said his principle concern was allowing his players to recover.

"We're focused on how many players we can get back. The match against Brazil is an important one, and we can't underestimate it," he said.

"The problem is getting some of the physical freshness back. We need to be able to play the next match with the same levels of determination and fitness."

Brazil were made to endure some nervous moments by Mexico before substitute Jo claimed a second goal in injury time at Fortaleza's Estadio Castelao, just as he had in the 3-0 victory over Japan.

The star of the show, however, was once again Neymar, who followed up his blistering half-volley against the Japanese with a fine volley and the assist for Jo against Mexico.

The 21-year-old superstar sought to align himself with the protests sweeping the country by pledging his support for the demonstrators in an Instagram message prior to the game.

His subsequent performance was electrifying, but although he is threatening to sweep the tournament's best goal competition on his own, he says it does not matter how he finds the net against Italy.

"I'm happy I scored two great goals. The match against Italy will be a very tough one though," he told reporters.

"They're a fantastic team, and I hope I can score against them. No matter how if it helps the national team."

Italy and Brazil have contested some of the most iconic games in football history, including Brazil's 4-1 success in the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico and Italy's 3-2 triumph in the second round of the 1982 tournament.

The latter match, in Barcelona, was the last time Italy beat Brazil, who have registered three wins and three draws in the last six fixtures between the sides.

Brazil won 3-0 when the teams met at the same stage of the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, while their last encounter, a friendly in Geneva in March this year, saw Italy come from 2-0 down to claim a 2-2 draw through goals from Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli already has two goals to his name at the Confederations Cup, but in Thiago Silva, Brazil possess a centre-back schooled for three years in the arts of Italian defending at the striker's current club, AC Milan.

"I know all the Italian players," said the Paris Saint-Germain centre-back.

"I've played with some of them, against others, so I know each of their qualities and what they can do in a match."

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Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.