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The Wolfsburg midfielder has singled out the influential playmaker as the Azzurri's key man and remains optimistic about his side's chances of making it to the semifinals.

Makoto Hasebe admits Japan cannot afford to allow Andrea Pirlo any space if the team is to get a good result against Italy on Wednesday.

The Asian champion was beaten 3-0 by Brazil in its Group A opener, but Hasebe remains optimistic about his side's chances of making it to the semifinals.

"Pirlo? He's the brains of the team and an outstanding footballer. We have to get at him early and not allow him to play his game," the 29-year-old Wolfsburg midfielder told the official FIFA website. "We were too defensive against Brazil. It's a shame we lost, but they're a strong team and they had the crowd behind them. All of that definitely affected us.

"We were massively disappointed and our heads went down at first, but we have to pick ourselves up now. We still have games against Italy and Mexico, and if we win both we're through to the semifinals. Italy always come up with a great team. They're very organized and solid in defense. The strategy is to stop Pirlo and beat Italy and anything’s possible after that."

Italy recorded a 2-1 win over Mexico in its opening game.

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