Italy came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Brazil in a hugely entertaining international friendly in Geneva on Thursday.
With Brazil having no competitive fixtures before hosting the World Cup next summer, the Selecao’s intensity was clear from the off and Italy responded in kind as they looked to get a first win over the five-time World Cup winners since 1982.
Despite Italy, whose plane was struck by lightning on the short journey to Switzerland, starting on top, Brazil secured a 2-0 half-time lead with goals from Fred and Oscar. But Italy came back after the break and got a deserved draw courtesy of Daniele de Rossi and a stunning strike from Mario Balotelli.
As they prepare for their World Cup qualifier with Malta next Tuesday, Italy were without Giorgio Chiellini, while a debut was handed to Milan left-back Mattia de Sciglio. Emanuele Giaccherini was also selected in a surprise trequartista role and Pablo Osvaldo started alongside Balotelli up front.
It was the in-form Milan striker who had the first real threat on goal as he had an early effort saved by Julio Cesar with another deflected just wide of the post. Italy were playing some delightful stuff in the early going, with Andrea Pirlo, as usual, at the heart of it.
It was the playmaker’s pass that picked out Christian Maggio cutting in from the right, but the full-back’s effort was blocked by Cesar.
But, against the run of play, it was Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side that struck first. After Fred impressed as a substitute in Scolari’s first match of his second period in charge against England last month, the Fluminense man again made a claim to be the Selecao’s striker going forward. Leonardo Bonucci could only head on a cross from the left by Filipe Luis and Fred was free at the back post to produce a fine side-footed volley to beat Gianluigi Buffon.
And just before half-time Brazil doubled their lead with a fine goal on the break. Neymar, often criticized for his performances against top-level opposition, showed up here in style as he went on an exhilarating run from deep to the edge of the box before playing in Oscar and the Chelsea man produced a classy and cool finish to poke the ball into the corner past Buffon.
Italy were not to be deterred, though, and came out in the second half with similar impetus to the first. Alessio Cerci made an early impact off the bench on his debut with fine cross into Balotelli, but under pressure he could only head over.
Cesare Prandelli’s side soon found a path back into the glamor friendly nine minutes after the restart. Brazil’s defending let them down from a Riccardo Montolivo corner and De Rossi produced an inventive flick to send the ball past Cesar.
Within two minutes Italy were level as Balotelli showed the thrilling ability at his disposal. Allowed too much space by Brazil 25 yards from goal, the maverick front man punished them in style as he curled the ball over Cesar and into the back of the net.
There may well have been further goals, with Neymar continuing to impress for Brazil, and Stephan El Shaarawy firing just wide during his cameo off the bench.
But as the final whistle blew, both coaches will likely be encouraged by their team’s performance after a friendly that whets the appetite for the Confederations Cup this summer—when Brazil and Italy will be in the same group—and, of course, at next year’s World Cup.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.