It might be nine games and 16 months since Italy last won a friendly but Cesare Prandelli will be proud of the spirit the Azzurri showed to turn a two goal deficit into a draw against the much fancied Brazil.
Italy are notorious for their nonchalant attitude towards friendlies, an opportunity to test new players and tactics but no reason to arduously seek a good result, but this performance will put them in good stead for their World Cup qualifier against Malta next week.
In these non-competitive games we have become accustomed to witnessing dour contests lacking both intensity and personality, however the match in Geneva showcased two teams with World Cup winning ambitions, and both will gain confidence from proceedings.
Brazil, once again managed by 2002 World Cup winning manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation which initially struggled to grasp the game. The intensity of the Italians, led by pressing from Emanuele Giaccherini and Daniele De Rossi, managed to stop the likes of Oscar and Hernanes (employed in a deep-lying role) from dictating play.
The movement and interchanging from the Seleção however made it hard for Neymar to be negated, with the precocious forward constantly drifting from his left-wing to adopt the centre forward position whilst Fred and Hulk pushed to the vacated flanks.
Fred grabbed his third goal in successive games after a cross from Filipe Luis wasn’t initially dealt with by Christian Maggio. Leonardo Bonucci flicked the ball on and debutant Mattia De Sciglio was not close enough to the Brazil number nine who impressively volleyed in.
Indeed De Sciglio could also be held accountable for the second, which was a magnificent counter-attack where Neymar demonstrated his unique capabilities with a football. The AC Milan full-back had a cross blocked and in the resulting counter-attack did not track back fast enough, allowing Neymar to delightfully play a reverse pass into Oscar, who finished with aplomb past Gianluigi Buffon with the outside of his boot.
Prandelli tinkered with the formation at half-time and the introduction of Stephan El Shaarawry and Alessio Cerci allowed Italy to play with two inside forwards who could attack the susceptible full-backs Filipe and Dani Alves. The Torino winger Cerci was the man who made a bigger difference and helped create room down the right for Maggio to exploit.
Italy’s first goal came from a corner which was poked in by De Rossi. Alves missed contact with the delivery and with nobody placed on the far-post; the Roma midfielder scored his 14th International goal. The equaliser however was a cracker.
With David Luiz bringing the ball out of defence, a one-two with Chelsea team-mate Oscar faltered when the midfielder under hit his pass, which ended up in the feet of Mario Balotelli. Up to this point the forward had been impressive, but his potency had not been up to scratch. Sprinting down the pitch and surrounded by four yellow jerseys, the former-Manchester City player unleashed a ferocious shot from about 25-yards out which Julio Cesar helplessly attempted to stop.
The remainder of the game petered out somewhat in comparison to the first hour, with Bonucci coming closest with a header just wide of Cesar’s goal.
Both Neymar and Balotelli illustrated in Switzerland why they are held in such a high manner. Mainstream perceptions of them in England are quite stale, with the Brazilian failing to live up to the hype after being relatively quiet in the nation’s encounter last month while Balotelli never quite fulfilled his potential in Manchester.
Both Italy and Brazil will have learnt a few answers from this game and with the foundation of both nations in set, there is no doubt that they will be contenders for the 2014 World Cup.