By Gustavo Vieira
We should all give reverence to the two most victorious national sides on the planet when they face each other, even for a friendly. Rubbing their combined nine World Cup titles in everyone else’s faces, Brazil and Italy contested a lively match in Geneva last night.
It was reassuring to see the continuation of Cesare Prandelli’s work with the azzurri still paying off. They dominated Brazil for most of the match and probably deserved to win. The never-aging Andrea Pirlo and the man of the match, (Super) Mario Balotelli, elevated QPR’s keeper Julio Cesar to the best Brazilian on the pitch.
On the other bench, Luiz Felipe Scolari, a.k.a. Big Phil, got yet another reminder that he’s a long way from having a proper team for Brazil 2014, not to mention the looming Confederations Cup at home in June. As usual, however, even when teamwork is missing altogether, Brazil fills the gap with its endless slate of individually talented players. The Italians should know better, but if there is one lesson in football, it is this: don’t underestimate Brazil.
In the 33rd minute, the still-in-the-rough diamond that is Neymar put a precise pass to the left of the box. The ball eventually found Filipe Luis, whose cross reached a cold-blooded Fred. He poked it into Buffon’s net without a bounce to open the scoring for Brazil. Even if Julio Cesar continued to save Brazil left and right, their unjust advantage widened in the 41st minute. A lethal counterattack carried by Neymar from Brazil’s defence all the way across the pitch ended with a sweet pass to serve Oscar in the box. The Chelsea prodigy effortlessly slipped it past Buffon to score Brazil’s second.
Brazil’s scattered defensive system started to make water early in the second half. At 53 minutes De Rossi, practically alone in the box, deflected a corner kick into the net, setting the mostly pro-Italy crowd on fire. Three minutes later, the oh-so-talented but inexperienced Oscar missed a pass back to Balotelli. Super Mario carried the ball unchallenged by a contemplative David Luiz—yet another talented but still young Chelsea player—ending his run with a mid-range strike beautifully-placed in Julio Cesar’s top drawer, settling the score for good.
The Italians kept pressing Brazil until the final whistle, led by an unstoppable Balotelli, while Julio Cesar kept things at bay. One more of Neymar’s lone moves, a perfect pass for Hulk face-to-face with Buffon, ended with Zenit’s striker laughably tripping on the ball.
An otherwise enjoyable match between these two heavyweights showed us the Italians are well ahead of the pack for the World Cup, more than a year ahead of the party. The Brazilians clearly have some homework to do, but again, we’d be wise to remember: don’t underestimate Brazil. After all, Italy itself hasn’t beaten the Seleção in 31 years, since that unforgettable quarter-final in Spain ‘82.