Andrea Pirlo will win his 100th cap for Italy in the fittingly illustrious surroundings of the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro as his side take on Mexico in their opening match of the Confederations Cup. The legendary midfield maestro will become the fifth Italian in history to reach the benchmark and will be aiming to show that he can still dictate proceedings even at the age of 34.
Italy are in a strong position to return to Brazil next year as Cesare Prandelli continues to stamp his mark on a team that suffered ignominy in the last World Cup as they failed to win a match and exited at the group stage. That tournament in South Africa followed a Confederations Cup campaign 12 months prior when they also went out at the first hurdle when the competition appeared to be treated as a distraction rather than an opportunity. But defensive stalwart Giorgio Chiellini is adamant that the same mistake will not be made this time.
"Being together for a month provides a great chance to improve,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “We know that all too well now. Four years ago in South Africa we didn't approach it properly and we paid the price.''
Mexico will be hoping to give Chiellini and the rest of Italy’s defense a much tougher examination tan they have provided their recent opposition. El Tri have scored just three times in their opening six matches in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying. Indeed last Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Costa Rica was their third consecutive goalless draw at home.
The result leaves coach Juan Manuel de la Torre firmly under pressure, but he believes his side are capable of mixing it with the world’s elite in Brazil. "Whenever there's a tournament, you always think Italy, Spain or Brazil have a chance, but you can never afford to rule out the other teams,” he said, according to FIFA.com. “Football is evolving quickly, there's not such a big difference between international teams anymore.” Mexico are likely to bring Giovani dos Santos back into the lineup after the Mallorca attacking midfielder started on the bench against Costa Rica. De la Torre is unlikely to begin with two forwards against an attack-minded Italy team and Dos Santos should start behind Javier Hernandez in place of Aldo de Nigris.
Prandelli also has a decision to make about his forward line with Stephan El Shaarawy struggling in the buildup with a muscle problem.
D: Abate, Barzagli, Chiellini, De Sciglio
M: De Rossi, Pirlo, Montolivo
D: Meza, Rodriguez, Moreno, Salcido
M: Torrado, Zavala
Barrera, Dos Santos, Guardado
Where to Watch: The Confederations Cup Group A match will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.