A sublime free-kick from Andrea Pirlo and a second half strike from Mario Balotelli allowed Italy to kick-off their Confederations Cup campaign on a winning note.
The Azzurri opened their campaign and Pirlo won his 100th cap at the legendary Maracanà stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Both the Italians and Mexicans came into the match off the back of two disappointing draws. It was the Italians though who overcame the pressure to perform. They dominated large spells of the game against a disappointing Mexico outfit who offered little. Despite their dominance the Italians had to wait for a late second half strike to secure victory.
Cesare Prandelli opted for a “Christmas Tree” 4-3-2-1 formation which he had tested at training during the week. Clauido Marchisio and Emanuele Giaccherini took up the advanced midfield positions behind Balotelli. Javier Hernandez led the attack for Mexico.
The Italians were quick to move onto the front foot and impose themselves on the game. Pirlo along with Ricardo Montolivo, who played in a more preferred deeper position for the National team, dictated the play. Italy created a few half chances early on but were unable to create clear openings. Mexico also threatened on the counter but ultimately the Italians took a deserved lead just before the half hour mark. Pirlo marked his 100th cap in the best way possible by directing a fabulous free-kick over the wall and into the top corner. Italy’s joy was short-lived however as a rare mistake by Andrea Barzagli resulted in a penalty. The Juventus man was caught in possession and then with some clumsy defending brought down Giovani Dos Santos in the box. Hernandez sent Gianluigi Buffon the wrong way from the spot.
Italy further stamped their authority on the game in the second period and allowed Mexico very little possession. The Mexican’s defended deep and Italy were able to launch attack after attack. Both full-backs, Ignazio Abate and Matia De Sciglio were given the freedom to advance regularly and gave the Italians an extra dimension in attack. Montolivo came closest early in the second period after a Pirlo free-kick was deflected into his path. The Milan playmaker unfortunately stabbed the ball without much power close to the keeper. Prandelli brought on Alessio Cerci for a very quiet Claudio Marchisio as the Mexican’s seemed content to hold on for a draw. Eventually after 78 minutes Balotelli with a display of strength and power blasted Italy into the lead. Super Mario out muscled and turned Francisco Rodriguez before finishing with two further defenders in close proximity. Balotelli was substituted late on and received a standing ovation from the Maracanà crowd.
The only criticism that can be laid against Prandelli’s men is that with the amount of possession and style of dictating play, the Italians simply have to convert more chances. Italy created a number of half chances which may not be enough against stronger opposition. The Italians controlled possession for majority of the game but the possibility of being caught on the break was always relevant. Prandelli may need to re-look at the players and combinations used directly behind Balotelli as especially Marchisio had very little impact against Mexico.
Italy can now build on an opening victory and take some confidence into their encounter with Japan on Wednesday. The Azzurri will want to secure a further three points before they take on the hosts, Brazil in their final group game.