The Selecao threatened to blow the Azzurri out of sight in Thursday’s friendly, but the Euro 2012 runners-up showed they have the togetherness and resilience to compete at the top
By Kris Voakes
So much for international friendlies being a waste of everybody’s time. Brazil and Italy served up one of the better trial matches in recent memory on Thursday in Geneva, with plenty of great football at which to marvel and a series of statements of intent coming from both sides.
For the second time in 2013, Italy came out of a high-profile friendly having rescued a share of the spoils, but whereas against Netherlands there was a touch of fortune about the result, faced with Brazil, they showed that they are one of the world’s best team units.
Cesare Prandelli’s side had the better of the first half, but the Selecao were two goals up by the break as they made a real statement as to an ability that will always put Brazil sides in with a shout. Luiz Felipe Scolari has a lot to do to make them true World Cup hopefuls as things stand, but one thing he can certainly count on is the flair and skill level that will always be present in the national side.
Their first goal came from a fairly routine left-wing cross which Leonardo Bonucci failed to clear having been attracted to the ball, leaving Mattia De Sciglio exposed to an overlap at the far post, and Fred side-footed home unmarked. But the second goal had a lot of Brazilian magic about it. Having seen a similar move moments earlier foiled by De Sciglio’s challenge on Anderson Hernanes, the Selecao struck with an attack into space.
Neymar broke forward after an Italy attack but appeared to have nothing on to his right until he delivered an inch-perfect reverse pass to leave De Sciglio beaten, allowing Oscar to collect the ball in space and nudge a delicate shot with the outside of his boot inside Gianluigi Buffon’s near post.
The Italians had had many of the first-half chances, had dominated much of the possession, and had looked the more organised outfit, yet it was Scolari smiling thanks to the sheer ability his players have by the bucketload. They may have some work on, but the continuing emergence of talents such as Neymar and Oscar will always give Brazilians reason for hope.
But Italy themselves have so much to offer these days, and in the second half they got their due reward for a fantastic approach. Far from accepting his team’s fate, Prandelli changed things up after the break and they got themselves back into the contest.
Having made chances but rarely turned Brazil around in the first half – Andrea Pirlo’s lofted ball for Christian Maggio was one of the rare occasions they had the Selecao back line facing their own goal – they began to stretch their opponents much more after the introductions of Alessio Cerci and, more notably, Stephan El Shaarawy.
One such moment from Il Faraone saw him reach the byeline and force Julio Cesar into a save from a narrow angle. From the resulting corner, the Brazilians failed to attack the ball and Daniele De Rossi turned home superbly. The goal capped an excellent personal performance from the Roma man, who revelled in the responsibility of directing the side in the second half after Pirlo’s early exit.
Italy were not done there though. After an explosive opening 10 minutes in which he saw Julio Cesar keep out one effort and David Luiz deflect another wide, Mario Balotelli had largely been on the periphery of the action, but it was he who would have the final say. Picking the ball up 40 yards from goal, he punished the retreating Brazil defence with a superb drive over the diving Julio Cesar and into the net. If there is one thing the Selecao really need in the near future on this display, it is a bolshiness in their back line.
The goal was just what Italy, the game as a spectacle, and Cesare Prandelli deserved, with the Azzurri having delivered a performance of real quality when it was needed. They could have gone on to win it, with Bonucci and Balotelli twice going close, but their positive performance will have been reason enough for the world to sit up and take notice.
Predicting World Cup fortunes 15 months before the event is a mug’s game, as Scolari’s triumph with Brazil in 2002 triumph proved so emphatically, but one thing that can be stated for sure is that both the Selecao and Italy will be among the favourites when the globe heads for South America next year.
And if Prandelli continues to get the best out of his fresh, young, mobile and versatile squad, spearheaded by the brilliant Balotelli, there are plenty of reasons for Italians to believe they can stake a claim for a fifth world crown.
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