Italy and Brazil played out an absorbing 2-2 draw in Switzerland on Thursday evening that warrants comparison with some of the most memorable clashes between these two great footballing nations.
Despite having the better of a thrilling first half, the Azzurri went in two goals down at the break, after being rocked by wonderfully taken goals from Fred and Oscar. However, Cesare Prandelli's men came storming back in the second half and after Daniele De Rossi had halved Brazil's advantage with a clever flick, Mario Balotelli earned Italy a thoroughly merited share of the spoils with a sublime curler.
It was the least Italy deserved. They had edged what was a refreshingly open start to this high-profile friendly, with both Emanuele Giaccherini and Balotelli drawing fine saves out of Julio Cesar. However, sandwiched in between those efforts was a stunning show of pace from Neymar, who breezed past Leonardo Bonucci before unleashing a well-struck shot which Gianluigi Buffon did well to parry around his right post.
Still, with Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in the middle of the park, it was the Azzurri who exhibited the greater control and cohesion early on, and they went closest to breaking the deadlock at the end of the opening quarter.
Pirlo picked up possession in midfield and created some time and space for himself with a superb hand-off on Neymar, before playing the most sublime pass in behind Filipe Luis for Christian Maggio. The full-back took the ball in his stride but his close-range effort on goal was weak and Julio Cesar saved with his chest.
However, despite their obvious superiority in midfield, Italy fell behind just after the half-hour mark, an inexplicably unmarked Fred calmly volleying home at the far post, after Filipe Luis' cross from the left wing had taken a slight deflection off the head of Bonucci.
Credit to Italy, though, they refused to wallow in self-pity and came storming back, with Balotelli testing Julio Cesar with a fine drive from the edge of the area before Pirlo sent a left-footed curler spinning just wide.
But they were left reeling by a second sucker punch just before the break. Neymar was released into space just inside Italian territory and the Santos starlet cleverly cut across Pirlo before slipping in Oscar with a brilliant reverse pass. The Selecao No.10 took care of the rest, coolly prodding the ball past Buffon with the outside of his right foot.
Prandelli responded to the shock of conceding a second goal against the run of play by sending Stephan El Shaarawy on in place of Pablo Osvaldo during the half-time interval, as well as replacing Pirlo with Alessio Cerci. El Shaarawy made an immediate difference, linking well with Balotelli before being denied by Julio Cesar from an acute angle.
From the resulting corner, De Rossi halved Italy's deficit with an innovative flick of his right boot. Less than three minutes later, the Azzurri were level - and in even more spectacular style, Balotelli curling the ball past Julio Cesar from all of 25 yards out.
Incredibly, Italy should have then moved ahead just after the hour mark, but after instantly controlling Riccardo Montolivo's deflected strike, Balotelli volleyed straight at Cesar. They missed another glorious chance on 67 minutes when an unmarked Bonucci glanced a near-post header just wide.
The Azzurri continued to pile on the pressure in the closing stages but, despite the best efforts of El Shaarawy, they were unable to find a winner, which was probably no bad thing given that football deserved to be the only winner on the night.
|M. De Sciglio|
|D. De Rossi||54'|
|Coach: C. Prandelli|
for A. Pirlo 46'
for D. Osvaldo 46'
for E. Giaccherini 68'
for M. De Sciglio 74'
for D. De Rossi 81'
for M. Balotelli 83'
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