Gianluigi Buffon saved three out of five Uruguayan attempts in the shootout as Italy beat the South Americans 3-2 on penalties to finish third in the Confederations Cup yesterday after the two sides defied energy-sapping heat in a 2-2 draw.
Italy won 3-2 on penalties
Scorers: Uruguay 2 - Cavani (58), (78); Italy - Astori (25), Diamanti (73)
After extra time
Italy, who had Riccardo Montolivo sent off ten minutes from the end of extra time for a second bookable offence, twice led only for Edinson Cavani to pull Uruguay level each time.
Cavani missed two chances to complete a hat-trick and win the match for the Copa America champions deep into extra time.
Italy finished the match utterly exhausted after playing extra time in tropical conditions for the second time in four days, following their semi-final defeat by Spain on penalties in Fortaleza on Thursday.
To make matters worse, yesterday’s match kicked off at 1pm local time with most of the pitch bathed in sun. It was so hot that most of the seats in the sun were left empty with fans only taking their places after they had moved into the shade.
“It wasn’t easy to give all they had when they were running on empty,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said in a touchline interview. Several matches at next year’s World Cup will also be played at 1pm in tropical venues, although governing body Fifa has rejected criticism and said that conditions are suitable for football.
Buffon, who saved penalties from Diego Forlan, Martin Caceres and Walter Gargano, added: “We have shown great character because today it’s been really tough.”
Ironically, Italy and Uruguay may have inadvertently lent weight to Fifa’s argument by serving up an attractive, attacking game.
Italy took the lead in the 24th minute when Alessandro Diamanti’s venomous free kick sailed over goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, hit the post and then rebounded off Muslera’s back to Davide Astori, who tapped it over the line.
Uruguay got a deserved equaliser after 58 minutes when Gargano picked up the ball on the halfway line and laid it off to Cavani whose perfect side-footed finish evaded the diving Buffon. Despite struggling, Italy went back in front against the run of play in the 73rd minute with a beautifully struck Diamanti free kick from 25 metres.
Not to be outdone, Cavani replied with another free kick five minutes later which Buffon flapped at and missed.
The Napoli forward could have won the match for Uruguay when he fired wide late in extra time, then slashed his shot across the face of goal after Buffon had parried Gargano’s long-range shot.
“It was a great tournament but unfortunately, against Brazil and today, we didn’t quite have enough,” Uruguayan captain Diego Lugano, whose side were beaten 2-1 by the hosts in the semi-finals, said after the game.
Meanwhile, Spain’s famously lugubrious coach Vicente Del Bosque was delighted Spain were playing Brazil in the Confederations Cup final at the Maracana even if he was not showing it. The 62-year-old, speaking to the media before last night’s eagerly anticipated match between next year’s World Cup hosts and the reigning world champions, broke into a rare smile and laughed when he said football was not just his passion, but also “his secret vice.”
Del Bosque’s mournful hangdog expression disguises a master tactician and thinker who has led Spain to the World Cup in 2010 and European title in 2012 as well as an unbeaten run of 29 competitive games.
“I have been privileged to have been a player and football is my passion and its my vice, if I confess it,” Del Bosque said. “I am very much enjoying this moment, I have had marvellous moments as a player in great teams, and right now, I am coaching a team which is in one of its best-ever phases.
“So I am enjoying it, even if I am not showing it that obviously,” he laughed.
“I am highly satisfied, and for all of us this is something very beautiful. We are playing Brazil, the kings of football who have lived through marvellous moments in their football history, and to play in Maracana is something very special. I am delighted we are playing the final here and perhaps we can come back and play the World Cup final here as well in 2014.”
Although he would not name his starting lineup, he said the team would be “similar” to the one that beat Italy 7-6 in a penalty shootout after the teams ended goalless after 120 energy-draining minutes in the heat and humidity of Fortaleza in their semi-final.
He brushed aside a question about the fitness of Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets, merely saying his players were in “good shape”. On Saturday, Fabregas said he was fine and that his coming off in the second half of the final group match against Nigeria, which kept him out of the semi-final, was just a precautionary move.
“It was just a scare,” Fabregas told the AS newspaper. “I was worried because I have a bad history of injuries in the hamstring area, although the past two years have been very positive. I didn’t force it against Nigeria and the tests showed nothing more than a bit of tension which was affecting me in the sprints. But I am already feeling better and am fit to play.”
While Spain has dominated world football in recent years, Brazil hasn’t won a significant title since the 2009 Confederations Cup – losing in the quarter-finals of the last two World Cups. Brazil entered the tournament without knowing whether the fans would be on its side following a series of poor results and lacklustre performances at home. A victory would mark the team’s sixth straight victory.