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2.06.2009

Confederations Cup: Italy to use a special jersey

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Italian national team are set to take part in the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa this summer and will do so wearing a specially designed kit, according to Calciomercato.

Puma has designed Italy's kit for the tournament as a tribute to the Italian sides that won the World Cup in 1934 and 1938. The colour and style of the jersey are reminiscent of the era with a v-neck and the Italian tri-colour symbol just above the heart. The oblique background stripes of the jersey will also have the word 'Italia' repeated.

Real Madrid defender and Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro is enthusiastic about the new kit and will be involved with its presentation.

At present, it is planned that the strips will be used only for the Confederations Cup tournament, and then it seems they will be folded and put away, as the Italian national side will return to a more modern style.

As we know, the tournament runs from June 14 to June 28. Italy are in Group B with Brazil, the United States and Egypt.

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Japan and Australia in a football epic battle

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The 2010 FIFA World Cup may be more than a year away, but Japan's upcoming World Cup qualifier with Australia in Yokohama could yield an answer to a question that has left many fans in Asia scratching their heads. Are Japan great enough to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup?

Japan team boss Takeshi Okada certainly thinks so. In a video message broadcast in December at the opening of a new sports store in Tokyo, the Sankei Sports daily claimed that Okada drew applause at the time the normally straight-laced tactician made an uncharacteristically bold statement.

"We will seriously aim to finish in the top four at the World Cup," said Okada - perhaps unaware that his stunning proclamation was about to relayed throughout the region. "Some people may laugh it off but I think it is possible."

What makes Okada's statement all the more unusual is that the Blue Samurai have struggled in World Cup qualifying so far. Their nadir was reached with a 1-0 defeat in the first round of qualifying to Bahrain in Manama, and as if to prove it was no fluke, Bahrain beat Japan by the same score in an Asian Cup qualifier just last month.

Those two defeats have set tongues wagging throughout Asia, particularly with Australia keen to assume the mantle as the region's premier side. They sowed the seeds of an intense rivalry by beating Japan in the group stage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, before the Blue Samurai exacted revenge by knocking out the Socceroos on penalties in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup.

That Asian Cup appearance proved disappointing for both sides, with West Ham United defender Lucas Neill's claim that Australia would go through the tournament undefeated looking foolish the minute eventual champions Iraq beat Australia in just the second group stage game.

Neill's statement nevertheless seemed to get under Japanese skin, and Japan's players were quick to voice their opinions in the build-up to a fiery Asian Cup quarter-final.

Former Portsmouth keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi claimed that he was "burning for revenge" after Australia's World Cup victory, while defender Yuji Nakazawa bluntly predicted that Japan would victory the clash 3-0. His prediction didn't quite ring true, but both men proved pivotal in the shoot-out - Kawaguchi saved two penalties before Nakazawa smashed home the earning spot-kick.

Now the burgeoning rivalry is set for another chapter and far from cooling tempers, Japan team boss Okada has instead heaped fuel on the fire. "We definitely want to beat Australia and I think it is possible. I want to shut them up," Okada told reporters after his side had thrashed Qatar 3-0 in Doha.

Australia's laconic Dutch team boss Pim Verbeek has refused to be drawn into a war of words ahead of the latest clash. Verbeek knows Okada well - the two both team bossed in the J-League in 2003 - and he will realise that there is little to gain from engaging in pre-match psychological warfare.

All the pressure is on Japan, and having so far taken maximum points in the final round of qualifying, Australia can afford to lose in Yokohama and still cruise through to the finals in South Africa.

Japan are toughly in dire straits themselves, but having announced their grand plans to finish in the top four at the World Cup, they could soon be left with egg on their faces if they are unable to overcome Australia at home. That's partly because the Australian media will be quick to trumpet an away-day victory - Australian sporting success is always great for circulation - and partly because Japanese fans have historically had high expectations for their side.

Recent defeats have dampened those expectations, but by the time Japan run out in front 70,000 fans at a packed Yokohama International Stadium, team boss Okada will no doubt hope that his players can hold their nerve. They'll be desperate to have wrapped up qualification by the time they travel to Melbourne for their final World Cup qualifier, and with a tricky away trip to Uzbekistan also looming on the horizon, Japan can ill-afford to leave anything to chance.

Australia toughly need any more encouragement themselves. Undaunted by his failed Asian Cup prediction, Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill was confident that his side would finish in the top two of their five-team qualifying group, telling West Ham's matchday program that, "other than the hosts South Africa and Italy, we could be the first side to qualify, which will be a nice statement to make to the world that last time was not a fluke."

Plenty to play for in Yokohama then, where there is much more at stake than just World Cup qualifying points. Both Japan and Australia believe that they can do some damage in South Africa, but they will want to do so as the region's top-ranked side.

Korea Republic fans may of course disagree, but for many Japanese and Australian fans, their upcoming World Cup qualifier in Yokohama could settle some matters of regional supremacy. No hint as yet whether it could answer Japan's other burning question; whether they are great enough to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

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