RECIFE, Brazil -- On a hot and humid tropical evening, Italy sweated out a 4-3 victory over Japan.
And by their own account, the Azzurri were fortunate to come out on top.
Italy rallied from a two-goal deficit Wednesday to overcome a passionate Japan squad coached by one of their countryman and reach the Confederations Cup semifinals.
First-half substitute Sebastian Giovinco scored the winner in the 86th minute of a wild match at the Arena Pernambuco, pounding home a cross from Claudio Marchisio.
After a dismal start for the Azzurri that saw Japan score twice in the opening 33 minutes, Daniele De Rossi pulled one back with a header in the 41st, Japan defender Atsuto Uchida scored an own-goal in the 50th and Mario Balotelli converted a penalty in the 52nd to give Italy a 3-2 lead.
Japan had taken the lead with a penalty from Keisuke Honda in the 21st. Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa made it 2-0 in the 33rd after a defensive error.
Shinji Okazaki later made it 3-3 in the 69th.
In all, Japan produced 17 shots, 11 of them on goal and three off the woodwork.
"That shows how fortunate we were tonight," Italy goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon said. "We won a match we probably shouldn't have won."
Italy put seven of its 12 shots on goal.
"They had fewer opportunities but they were better at scoring," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. "The difference in international experience was clear."
The offensive outburst was surprising considering the stifling conditions. On an evening with intermittent rain, the temperature hovered at 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) but it felt much warmer with the humidity ranging from 75 to 100 per cent.
"The climate was incredible," De Rossi said. "This was one of the toughest matches of my career."
Italy moved level with Brazil at the top of Group A with six points each. Brazil beat Mexico 2-0 earlier Sunday and has now also advanced courtesy of Italy's win.
In the final round of group matches, Italy will face host Brazil in Salvador on Saturday and Japan meets Mexico in Belo Horizonte.
Buffon suggested that Italy play some reserves against Brazil.
"We usually go down to the 90th minute of the third match," he said. "This is one of the few times we have this advantage and we should take advantage of it."
Compared to 2009, when Italy was eliminated in the first round of the Confederations Cup in South Africa, this tournament is already a success.
"Tonight we really, really struggled," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "We need to deal with the climate, it's really difficult. ... But I liked the way we suffered. We could have felt satisfied with ourselves but instead we wanted the win."
Making things more difficult for Italy was that most of the fans inside the stadium, which was about three-quarters full with mainly Brazilians, were supporting Japan.
For the first half hour, Italy struggled with defensive errors while Japan controlled the majority of the play.
"We fell behind 2-0 because we didn't understand what we should have done," Prandelli said. "We didn't have any energy."
Zaccheroni, an Italian who took over as coach of Japan three years ago, seemed to know just how to contain Italy.
"They ran three times as much as we did," Italy defender Andrea Barzagli said.
First, Mattia De Sciglio made a poor backpass to set up Honda's penalty. The pass forced Buffon to tackle Okazaki inside the area.
Buffon protested vehemently that it was a clean tackle but Argentine referee Diego Abal thought otherwise and pointed to the penalty spot and showed Buffon a yellow card.
Italy also struggled with penalties in its last two matches, allowing Mexico an equalizer in its tournament opener and a late penalty in its 2-2 draw against Haiti in a warm-up game last week.
Next, Giorgio Chiellini mistimed a clearing attempt on a bouncing ball inside the area and Kagawa took advantage by firing in an acrobatic strike.
The 24-year-old Kagawa is quickly becoming Japan's most talented player. In March, he became the first Asian to score a hat trick in the English Premier League when he led United to a 4-0 win over Norwich.
Italy didn't really threaten at all until De Rossi scored by meeting a corner from Andrea Pirlo with a textbook header.
However, De Rossi will miss Italy's next match after picking up his second yellow card in two games.
The goal energized Italy and Emanuele Giaccherini nearly levelled the score when his shot hit the post in first-half injury time.
The own-goal that made it 2-2 came when Giaccherini attempted to pass to a wide open Balotelli and Uchida intercepted and knocked it into his own net.
Italy went ahead 3-2 from Balotelli's penalty following a hand ball by Japan captain Makoto Hasebe.
Using his usual stutter-step technique, Balotelli easily fooled the Japan goalkeeper and improved to 18 for 18 on penalty kicks in his career, both with clubs and Italy.
Okazaki then shocked the Italians when he beat Riccardo Montolivo to a header to make it 3-3.
Even after Giovinco's goal, Japan refused to give up and got the ball in the net in the 89th only for the goal to be disallowed for offside.