SALVADOR: Keeper Gigi Buffon made three fine penalty saves as Italy defeated Uruguay 3-2 in a shootout to clinch third place at the Confederations Cup after a 2-2 extra time draw in the Arena Fonte Nova.
Italy were well worth third place at the tournament after having lost to Spain in a shootout only four days earlier and after having to play out the closing stages of extra time with only 10 men after Riccardo Moltolivo had been sent off for a second yellow card.
Juventus veteran Buffon then saved shootout efforts from Diego Forlan, Martin Caceres and – decisively – Walter Gargano.
Earlier the Azzurri had been inspired by winger Alessandro Diamanti as they took the lead. Each time, however, Napoli striker Edinson Cavani had pulled the Celeste back on terms.
Uruguay manager Oscar Washington Tabarez had retained faith in the full-strength side which had lost 2-1 to hosts Brazil in Wednesday’s semi-final in Belo Horizonte. His only change was the starting introduction of Internazionale midfielder Gargano in place of injured Alvaro Gonzalez.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, already missing injured Mario Balotelli, handed what proved an important first tournament appearance to the 26-year-old Cagliari central defender Davide Astori.
Milan starlet Stephan El Shaarawy made his first tournament start up front alongside Alberto Gilardino but the early opportunities fell to raiding defenders and midfielders. Giorgio Chiellini glanced a header narrowly wide of a post and then Antonio Candreva had a low angled shot alertly saved by the diving Fernando Muslera.
Lazio’s midfielder had another glimpse of goal in the 20th minute after bursting through the centre but blasted a 25m shot high over the bar.
Five more minutes and Italy were ahead. Bologna’s Diamanti swung in a right-wing free kick which eluded Muslera, struck the inside of the far post and ricocheted against the back of the goalkeeper’s shoulder. The ball appeared to be falling over the line before Astori made sure by firing it on into the back of the net.
Twice the dangerous El Shaarawy might have increased Italy’s lead. First he was foiled by a save from Muslera, diving right, then by a goal-line clearance from Diego Godin when the keeper was beaten.
The closest Uruguay came before half-time involved a drive on the run from Suarez and a shot on the turn from Maxi Pereira , both of which the alert Buffon turned around his left-hand post.
Cavani also put the ball in the net but the ‘goal’ was disallowed for offside. No such problem in the 58th minute, however, when the in-demand Napoli striker stroked a low shot beyond Buffon for a Uruguayan equaliser.
At this point Uruguay were looking the stronger but they were shocked back out of their stride in the 73rd minute when Diamanti curled a magnificent free kick over the defensive wall and down beyond the diving Muslera’s left hand.
Italy’s lead lasted only five minutes before Cavani thundered an even more impressive free kick back past Buffon at the other end of the pitch.
The fnal whistle meant Italy being constrained to play extra time for the second time in four days after their shootout defeat by Spain in the semi-finals last Thursday.
They duly held out to the end of the 120 minutes, despite being reduced to 10 men early in the second half of the extra period when Montolivo was sent off after being shown his second yellow card of the game for tripping Luis Suarez.
Uruguay: Muslera – M Pereira (A Pereira 81), Lugano, Godin,Caceres– Gargano, Arevalo (Perez 107), C Rodriguez (A Gonzalez 56) – Cavani, Forlan, Suarez.
Italy: Buffon – Maggio, Astori (Bonucci 96), Chiellini, De Sciglio – Candreva, De Rossi (Aquilani 70), Montolivo – Diamant, (Giaccherini 83), Gilardino, El Shaarawy.
Referee: Djamel Haimoudi (Alg). Attendance: 43,382.
Penalties (Uruguay first): Forlan saved 0-0, Aquilani 0-1; Cavani 1-1, El Shaarawy 1-2; Suarez 2-2, De Sciglio saved 2-2; Caceres saved 2-2, Giacccherini 2-3; Gargano saved 2-3.
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