Daniele De Rossi sparked Italy’s fightback and Mario Balotelli scored a superb second-half equaliser as the Azzurri battled to a 2-2 draw in a match tonight between two of the best five teams in the world in Geneva today.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side looked poor in their 1-0 defeat by England in February, but they jumped out to a commanding 2-0 half-time lead through goals by Fred and Oscar.
Italy had created several chances in the opening half, including a curling effort from Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo, but ultimately struggled with Brazil’s pacy rhythm.
Brazil looked set to dominate throughout but tired as the Azzurri turned the tables after the break with De Rossi reducing arrears in the 54th minute, and Balotelli pulling Italy level only three minutes later with a fine, curling effort which beat Queens Park Rangers ‘keeper Julio Cesar.
While Scolari opted for a formidable three-man attack in Fred, Neymar and Hulk, with Ronaldinho left at home for this trip, Cesare Prandelli’s pre-match plans were upset when Claudio Marchisio pulled out late through illness.
AC Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo stepped in, with Juventus’s Emanuele Giaccherini the link man for Balotelli and Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo up front in a 4-3-1-2 formation which Italy tweaked after the interval.
Italy started brightly with both Giaccherini and Balotelli forcing early saves from Cesar, and then Osvaldo coming even closer when he headed over from Balotelli’s cross on the left.
Those missed chances proved costly when defender Andrea Barzagli headed a cross from the left towards the back post where Fred, unmarked, beat Gianluigi Buffon with a coolly-taken volley on 33 minutes.
Andrea Pirlo, with a curling effort that went just past Cesar’s far post, and Balotelli again spurned chances and Italy were made to pay when Oscar slipped the ball past Buffon with the outside of his right boot after a calm lay-off by the impressive Neymar.
Prandelli tweaked Italy’s formation after the break, with Stephan El Shaarawy replacing Osvaldo and Alessio Cerci making his debut replacing Pirlo.
Not long after, Torino midfielder Cerci whipped over a cross for Balotelli only for the AC Milan striker to miss the target.
It was left to De Rossi to spark the fightback, the Roma midfielder poking home from close range after the ball fell kindly following a corner.
Balotelli’s leveller three minutes later was a fine effort, the striker charging towards the edge of the area before unleashing a superb drive which looped over Cesar and into the top corner.
Both Italy and Brazil created further chances as they fought for the win, however Scolari was ultimately left still looking for the Selecao’s first victory since he took over for a second spell last year.