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Neymar, Fred Power Brazil to Confederations Cup Semifinals

Salvador, Brazil — Neymar scored his third goal in three matches and Fred added two others as Brazil beat Italy 4-2 and finished on top of Group A of the Confederations Cup yesterday.

Substitute defender Dante opened the scoring from close range in first-half injury time, but Italy equalized through Emanuele Giaccherini’s swift breakaway in the 51st. Dante looked just offside for his goal.

Neymar scored in the 55th with a well-placed free kick shot into the top corner of the net as Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could only watch, and Fred added to the lead from inside the area in the 66th before Italy pulled closer again with a Giorgio Chiellini goal in the 71st.

Brazil was furious with Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov, who appeared to blow his whistle for an Italy penalty but changed his mind and gave a goal when it went in the net a second or so later.

Italy almost tied it when an 80th-minute header by Christian Maggio went off the crossbar, and Mario Balotelli just missed with a right-footed shot a few minutes later, but Fred sealed the victory from a Buffon rebound in the 89th, another goal that looked offside.

Brazil ended with nine points, three more than the Italians. Mexico and Japan had already been eliminated. Brazil needed at least a draw to win the group and likely avoid a matchup with World Cup champion Spain, which leads Group B.

“Brazil is ready for the semifinal,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “We’ve made it with a team with good technical and tactical quality and with a lot of confidence.”

The result keeps Italy winless against Brazil in 30 years, since the second round of the 1982 World Cup in Spain. In six matches since, Brazil has won four and there were two draws.

Brazil had also beaten Italy 3-0 the group stage of the 2009 Confederations Cup, when it eventually won its second straight title — and third overall — in the warm-up competition. Brazil hasn’t won any significant title since then.

The teams had met only four times since the 1994 World Cup final in the United States, with two victories by Brazil and two draws, including a 2-2 result earlier this year. It was the first time the teams played in Brazil.

Brazil took control in the first few minutes but it didn’t take long before Italy leveled the match at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.

Mexico 2, Japan 1

Belo Horizonte, Brazil — Javier Hernandez cemented his status as Mexico’s leading striker, sending his team home from the Confederations Cup on a high note by scoring twice in a victory over Japan.

With seven goals in his last eight games for Mexico, the 25-year-old Manchester United striker has now climbed up his country’s all-time scoring leaderboard to third spot, which he shares with retired forward Luis Hernandez.

After struggling to threaten in the first half at the Mineirao Stadium, Hernandez met Andres Guardado’s cross in the 54th minute and headed in again in the 66th from Giovani Dos Santos’ corner.

Shinji Okazaki pulled one back for Japan in the 86th and Hernandez won a penalty in stoppage time, but his weak effort was saved and he sent the follow-up against the crossbar.