No matter when or where they meet a game between these two countries makes soccer fans around the world sit up and take notice. Such a high profile game that soccer fan and all-star basketball player Kobe Bryant was in the stands taking in the game happening in the city of Salvador. There have been 15 previous games between the two nations. The results have been 7 victories for Brazil, 5 for the 8th ranked Italy and 3 draws, so fairly even play.
Italian coach Cesare Prandelli had to make some changes within his starting 11. Midfielder Daniele De Rossi is suspended after getting 2 yellow cards in the 2 first games. Veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo is also out for the game due to a leg injury. The expectations are that he will be fit for the semi-finals. Brazilian coach Luis Felipe Scolari also had to make a single change in that his defensive midfielder Paulinho was unavailable due to left ankle sprain.
On this very warm and humid day, this was to be the final game for both sides in the round robin portion. There has not been a goalless game in the Confederations Cup yet and you would not expect that from this contest. Everyone expected a hotly contested match despite the fact that both sides had already secured a spot in the next round as Italy had to win the game in order to finish ahead of Brazil in the group. It was also an anticipated match due to the head-to-head confrontation between two young star strikers. A lot of hype before the match of the Neymar Jr and Balotelli duel. Each of the strikers had 2 goals in 2 games so far.
Brazil starts the game fast, probably buoyed by their fans and the party going on in the stands. Italy has to do plenty of defending in the first couple of minutes. What must have made fans of Italy worried was the fact that their side was often giving the ball away cheaply in their own half. The Azzurri is not showing itself to be composed or organized in the back. They had to know that a talented offensive side like Brazil would cash in on these gifts.
Early on in the 8th minute fullback David Luiz of Brazil gets a yellow card for a reckless challenge on Italian striker Mario Balotelli. That is worrisome because it now means that 3 of Brazil’s fullbacks are 1 yellow card away from being suspended for semi-finals. They will have to be careful as it is a very chippy game with plenty of fouls so plenty of chance of getting a card.
In the 14th minute something else happened to Chelsea player David Luiz when he went down after a collision with an Italian player. He is in some difficulty and it seems to be his right thigh or hamstring. He comes back on the pitch after receiving some treatment.
From front to back, Brazil is a side that likes to push forward. Dani Alves and Marcelo are defenders who don’t hesitate to go forward and a lot of Brazil’s offense starts through them. The Samba Kings like a creative and free flowing style of play, so having attacking defenders is crucial.
Oddly enough in the 1st half there was a trio of substitutions made. In the 26th minute Prandelli took out Riccardo Montolivo in favour of Emanuele Giaccherini. Then he had to remove Ignazio Abate in the 30th minute due to injury. Christian Maggio came in to replace him. Not the greatest thing on such a warm day that Italy had to use 2 of their 3 subs in the first 30 minutes of play. Then finally Brazil had to make a sub of their own due to the previous injury to David Luiz in the 34th minute. Local boy Dante came on to the delight of the crowd for his 1st cap with Brazil. Dante is a central defender who plays his club ball with Bayern Munich.
Brazil managed to control much of the play in the 1st half, but it seemed like they were going to come out of it empty handed until the hometown boy scored his first goal for his country. In the 1st minute of the 2 added on to the 1st half Brazil was awarded a free kick on the left side about 25 yards out. It was taken by Neymar Jr. Headed by Fred and stopped by Gianluigi Buffon. He allows away a rebound that he should have done better with and Dante was there to fire it into the net. Buffon is furious after goal as Dante was offside, but he really should have been angry at himself for not either holding onto the header or really parrying it out of harm’s way.
As flat as the 1st half was was as exciting as the 2nd half was with plenty of push by both sides and 5 goals scored. Brazil starts off 2nd half the way it ended the 1st with several scoring chances. In the 46th minute it is Fred, but he is only able to manage a weak shot that is right at Buffon. Then in the 49th minute Brazil is awarded another free kick from 25 yards out that is taken by Neymar Jr once again. Fred once again gets on the end of it, but his flick of a shot ends up on the roof of the Italian net.
As occurs often, seemingly out of nothing Italy scored the tying goal. In the 51st minute Buffon heaved the ball out to Balotelli, who flicked it with his head onto the onrushing Giaccherini. He flew down the right side starting from just past center all the way into the Brazilian box. In a beautiful finish he lashed his shot past Julio Cesar just inside the far post. This was the first goal given up by Brazil in the tournament.
When you have as talented an offensive side as Brazil you cannot keep giving them free chances. Italy conceded another free kick in a dangerous position in the 58th minute. On the edge of the 18 yard box in a central position and Neymar Jr stood over it. With a precise shot into the far side beyond a pretty much motionless Buffon the young 21-year-old had his 3rd goal in 3 games. A star in the making! Buffon had the side covered (or so it seemed), but seemed totally fooled by its precision.
After Cesar saved a dipping free kick taken by Balotelli from 40 yards out, Brazil came back and scored their 3rd goal. In the 66th minute Marcelo, who was just over the center line, left footed a ball to the edge of the 18 yard box for Fred. Fred shows his skill when controlling the ball and then his strength by getting by the challenge of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini to score.
Continuing to make things exciting, Italy came back with a goal of their own. It was a controversial one. An Italian corner in the 71st minute was met by Balotelli, who played it back to Alberto Aquilani. Aquilani in turn also played it behind to defender Chiellini. Now at this point it appeared as if the referee had blown the whistle and was pointing to the penalty spot awarding the kick due to the foul on Balotelli. At the same time Chiellini was putting the ball into the Brazilian net. Now the ref changed his mind and awarded the goal. Controversial, but it counted. The game was a tight 3-2 in Brazil’s favour.
In the 80th minute after substitutions by both sides, Italy came close to tying the score once again. Antonio Candreva took a corner and Magio got on the end of it. He powerfully headed the ball only to have it find the bar, which rattled with the force of impact. Close, but Brazil was still ahead.
Lady luck was not on Italy’s side on this day as Brazil fended them off and sealed the outcome with a goal of their own in the 88th minute. Fred scored his 2nd goal of the game. Play was started by substitute (for Neymar Jr) Bernard who played the ball square to Marcelo just outside Italian box. Marcelo took a shot from 17 yards out that was stopped by Buffon. Fortuitously, the ball came right back to Fred and he made no mistake putting the ball into empty net.
With this 4-2 victory Brazil has won Group A and Italy would finish 2nd. The 2nd place finish most likely barring any surprise would mean that Italy would face Spain in the semi-finals while Brazil would meet Uruguay.
-On-Field Officials: Referee – Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan)
Linesmen: Abduxamidullo Rasulov (Uzbekistan) and Bakhadyr Kochkarov (Kyrgyzstan)
-Goals: 1st Half:
45th + 1 minute: Brazil – Dante
51st minute: Italy – Emanuele Giaccherini
55th minute: Brazil – Neymar Jr
66th minute: Brazil – Fred
71st minute: Italy – Giorgio Chiellini
89th minute: Brazil – Fred
-Shots on Goal: Brazil – 11
Italy – 4
-Corners: Brazil – 5
Italy – 6
-Man of the Match: Neymar Jr – Brazil
-Final Score: Brazil – 4
Italy – 2