Get to your DVRs as soon as possible, because that Italy-Japan match was a classic

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Take an aging team, fly them half-way across the world, and ask them to play on short rest. On the other side, put a set of highly skilled, tactically adept players who’re more than willing to run all day. On the surface, it sounds like a mismatch, but when you one team’s Italy and the other’s Japan, it turns into a formula for fireworks.

And that’s exactly what happened today in Recife, where Italy scored last to claim three points in a 4-3 shootout that could have just as easily seen the Samurai Blue salvage their Confederations Cup hopes. But after a match with seven different goal scorers and 37 shots, Japan was cast aside with Mexico, both teams at the bottom of Group A after losing their first two matches. Italy move top of the group with Brazil, each team’s 2-0-0 record assuring them a place in the semifinals.

It was easily the most-entertaining match of the young tournament, one that challenged memories to find a more engaging, top-quality competitive international in recent time. Amid early Japanese dominance, Italy’s second half resurgence, Japan’s late push, and the Azzurri’s countering winner, controversial officiating and the woodwork’s intervention may have ended any debate as to why we have the Confederations Cup.

The Japanese thoroughly controlled the first 35 minutes, finally going ahead through Keisuke Honda, who converted from the spot after a fortuitous call gave Japan a 21st minute reward for their early dominance. A beautiful Shinji Kagawa pivot on a bouncing ball 12 minutes later saw the Manchester United star volley a second past Gianluigi Buffon, leaving Italy overwhelmed while the underdogs assumed control:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwfaWHQF3BU]

A late first half header from Daniele de Rossi made it a game before half time, with Italy building on their momentum with early second half goals from Atsuto Uchida (own goal) and Mario Balotelli. The latter, a penalty kick conversation, came after a disputed hand ball call, Japan’s luck seemingly evening out after an innocuous Buffon tackle was deemed penalty-worthy in the first half.

Over the match’s last half hour, Japan resumed the dominance they showed at the onset, a tired Italian side strained to preserve a result after Shinji Okazaki’s header made it 3-3. But as Japan pressed for a winner, Okazaki and Kagawa finding the post and crossbar as Buffon flailed at Japan’s salvos, Italy found a single, trademark, decisive moment, a rare moment of attacking verve allowing Sebastian Giovinco to slot home the winner in the 86th minute.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zXk9or_hoI]

Japan had a final equalizer rightly waved off for offside, but the final scorer proved beside the point once full time was blown. Particularly in tournament like the Confederations Cup, there have to be more important things than the final score. On Wednesday, the spectacle on display at the Pernambuco Arena was enough to justify any match, tournament, or outcome. And wherever that magic came from, find it, save it, and be ready to give us more.

Comeback kids Roma defiant after loss: “We are not beaten yet”

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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AS Roma turned around a three-goal first leg deficit against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, and i Lupi feel prepared to do it against Liverpool, too.

Roma fell 5-2 to the Reds on Tuesday, but again struck late to bring away goals back to Italy. This time, it was Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti ruining a host’s clean sheet.

[ MORE: Match recap | Klopp reacts ]

Manager Eusebio Di Francesco was not thrilled with his side on the night. From ASRoma.com/En:

“We weren’t on their level tonight – we were lacking a bit of strength and physical presence,” he said. “We let them swamp us too easily on occasion.”

A better second leg is almost assured, but can Roma complete another comeback?

“I have total belief,” Di Francesco said. “You can’t just give in during a game, especially in this type of competition. Sometimes you take a few hits, but the team wasn’t able to stay in the game and at times we lost a bit of unity.”

Sporting director Monchi admits that he thought his side was cooked before Dzeko opened Roma’s account.

“Up until the final 10 minutes we were out of the competition,” he said. “Now we still have some hopes, and we must take this small chance and do the same thing we did against Barcelona.”

Former Spurs defender Federico Fazio, now with Roma, thinks it can be done.

“We always focus on the positives,” said Fazio. “We are fighters and we will give absolutely everything until the last second. We are not beaten yet, once again with the strength of our fans behind us we will fight to the last moment to try and turn this tie around.”

Klopp reacts to Liverpool’s 5-2 win, Ox’s “bad news” injury

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Liverpool won Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal 5-2 against Roma at Anfield, but it’s show-stopping 80-minute isn’t carrying a ton of momentum in the echoes of the final whistle.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 5-2 Roma ]

That’s because of two factors:

  1. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was stretchered off the field with an ugly injury
  2. The two in the score line came in the final 10 minutes, as Liverpool almost inexplicably lost focus.

Before we get to Point No. 2, here’s Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on “The Ox”:

“Oxlade-Chamberlain is probably a really bad injury,” Klopp said on BT Sport in England. “That is bad news for us. The squad doesn’t get bigger at the moment so we need to be creative in the next few games.”

As for the Roma goals, Klopp was frustrated but ultimately happy to walk away with a three-goal lead.

Edin Dzeko headed home the Roma opener in the 81st minute before Diego Perotti converted a penalty kick after James Milner handled a ball in the box. Roma collected shot attempts in the final 10 minutes to finish the match 21-14 in Liverpool’s favor.

Klopp did not think it should have been a PK.

“Long term perfect performance for pretty much 80 minutes or so,” he said, via the BBC. “We made defensively one mistake. Penalty is not a penalty but that is the situation and now it is 5-2. Of course we would have been more happy with 5-0 or 5-1 but 5-2 is a fantastic result. We go there and try again.”

Liverpool on late let-off: “You can’t do that in the Champions League”

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Count Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson among those let down by the final 10 minutes of their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Reds took a 5-0 lead and conceded goals to Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti to give the visitors hope with two away goals heading back to Italy for the May 2 second leg.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 5-2 Roma ]

“It felt as though we were in full control but we basically gave them two goals, you can’t do that in the Champions League,” Henderson said. “At the same time we played well, we will go there with a three goal advantage.”

Reds center back Virgil Van Dijk was visibly frustrated even when discussing the boss-level effort in building a lead which should be very hard to erase in Rome.

“It was a fantastic evening, lot of good goals,” Van Dijk said. “A lot of passion, frustration, but the last minutes stays in my mind right now. … It can’t happen. Obviously we know Roma have a lot of quality but we need to do better. But we have a 5-2 lead to take with us to Rome. It’s going to be very tough, but we’ll be ready.”

So 3-0 or 4-1 would do it for Roma next week in Italy, but that’s far easier said than done. Liverpool fans won’t be booking too many flights for Ukraine yet, but Jurgen Klopp will be scouting Bayern Munich and Real Madrid on Wednesday with an eye toward Kiev.

Liverpool bosses Roma, opens door late

Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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  • Ex-Roma star Salah bags 42nd, 43rd of season
  • Picks up two assists as well
  • Firmino also has two and two

Liverpool’s trident impaled its visitors again and again, as the Premier League side took a 5-2 first leg lead over AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League semifinal at Anfield on Tuesday.

Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino braces bookended a Sadio Mane marker as the front three ran riot on Roma ahead of May 2’s second leg in Italy.

Roma’s only consolation comes in the form of two goals in the final 10 minutes; The first was an Edin Dzeko marker in the final 10 minutes. The second a penalty given for a James Milner handball that Diego Perotti converted for a second away goal.

[ MORE: Full box score and statistics ]

Roma will carry the same hopeful message as it did in the first leg against Barcelona, down three but this time with a pair of away markers.

Salah scored the first two goals, and the opener was a precise finish for the Egyptian wonder.

An offside but uncalled Salah worked a 1-2 with Firmino to add to his total before finding Mane to make it 3-0 with a tap-in.

Trent-Alexander Arnold sent Salah down the right side for the fourth goal, his 62nd minute pass reaching Firmino for an attempt he’ll finish 95 times out of 100.

It was simply calamity off a corner for the fifth goal, a disheartened Roma offering little as Firmino completed his brace.