The Azzurri haven't defeated Selecao in 30 years and Brazil have only lost one competitive game on home soil in the last 50. Yet, on Saturday Italy will be focusing on something more important - avoiding Spain in the semi-final round. So what should we expect when the two square off for the final group game? Let's dig in to see where the value lies.
To start with, let's dive right into the big roster changes. Some people were worried about Neymar's fitness heading into this match, but those fears have been calmed as he's ready to play. The same can't be said for Andrea Pirlo though. The crafty Italian has been ruled out of this one with a calf injury. Daniele De Rossi is also out, but his absence comes in the form of a suspension for receiving multiple yellow cards in the previous matches.
David Luis broke his nose versus Mexico, but he's been cleared to play. The status of Paulinho is still up in the air, but he could be rested nurse an ankle sprain. Finally, Hulk could see time on the bench because he hasn't yielded the kind of results that were expected of him in the first two games. This could open the door for youngster Lucas Moura, but we'll know more closer to kickoff.
When it comes to Brazil, one thing is certain - it's never boring around this club. This current generation of players could be going through an identity crisis of sorts, and it is also unfolding amidst a social identity crisis off the pitch as well.
In their first game there were roughly 3000 protesters outside the stadium, but that number grew ten-fold for the second game. In the moments leading up to kickoff with Mexico, there were even some violent confrontations among the assembled groups. It's clear that football has taken a backseat in Brazil right now, but that doesn't diminish the pressure to perform in what most consider a World Cup dress rehearsal.
The question is whether or not that Brazilian team can match the results of their predecessors.
For years, there has been a steady shift away from the romantic, free-flowing samba football in favor of a more direct, pragmatic, and tactical style. Now, quick counter-attacks and set pieces rule the day. Neymar might be firing on all cylinders, but the team as whole is not a cohesive unit by any means.
In fact, Brazil have been favored over 90% of the time in their previous 36 games, but they've only won 54% of them. Furthermore, they've only covered the spread in 30% of those games. It might be a bit unfair to include friendlies in those statistics, but it's obvious that the betting markets overvalue Brazil.
Italy will focus a lot of their attention on limiting Neymar's time and space in this game. If they can, it will put a lot of pressure on the rest of the underachieving lineup to produce in support. Brazil can win the group with only a draw, so Italy will have no choice but to stay aggressive and capitalize on any chances they get.
Due to the situational dynamic that these clubs are in, along with the continued overvaluing of Brazil, I like the underdog in this game. I also like the odds that both of these teams will score. Neither team have had trouble finding the back of the net over their last dozen games, and both are apt to concede their fair share of chances as well.
Prediction: Italy +1 (-117) and both teams to score (-110).