Andrea Pirlo’s sensational free kick on his 100th cap and a Mario Balotelli strike saw Italy beat Mexico 2-1 in the Confederations Cup.
The Azzurri open their Confederations Cup campaign at the legendary Maracanà in Rio de Janeiro. Although they had only ever lost once to El Tri, their last victory was a friendly back in 1993, along with six wins and four 1-1 draws. Mario Balotelli shook off a minor muscular problem to lead the new 4-3-2-1 formation. Mexico had drawn five of their previous six World Cup qualifiers and were under pressure to perform. The other Group A game saw Brazil beat Japan 3-0.
Andrea Pirlo earned his 100th cap and in the opening 90 seconds Gerardo Flores intercepted a smart Balotelli through ball for Emanuele Giaccherini. SuperMario also pounced on a Francisco Rodriguez defensive error, though his lob from midfield was off target.
Riccardo Montolivo burst down the left and set up Balotelli, but the shot was beaten away by Jose Corona at point-blank range. Giaccherini also sprung the offside trap on the left and his curler was just over the top corner, then Corona just about parried a Balotelli snapshot and got it clear with two Azzurri lurking.
However, Mexico went extremely close on 11 minutes when Ignazio Abate was dispossessed and Andres Guardado’s screamer cracked against the crossbar.
Italy went on a classic counter-attack and Pirlo went down in the box as two mistimed tackles flew in, but the referee waved play on. Replays suggest neither Mexican player got the ball.
The deadlock was eventually broken by a magnificent Pirlo free kick. The Brazilian locals were chanting his name before he stepped up and the Juventus veteran curled a wonderful effort over the wall into the near top corner to celebrate his 100th cap in style.
Giorgio Chiellini risked an own goal to anticipate Javier Hernandez, but Andrea Barzagli was dispossessed by Giovani Dos Santos and brought down the forward for a clear penalty. Chicharito Hernandez sent Gigi Buffon the wrong way to convert and equalise.
The Mexican defence continued to make errors unpunished, as Balotelli fired at the goalkeeper, then Corona dived in to palm an Abate cross off the foot of SuperMario from six yards and Giaccherini couldn’t get on the end of a smart Mattia De Sciglio pull-back. Corona rushed off his line to smother at Balotelli’s feet before the break.
Pirlo took another free kick in the second half, but this time placed it under the wall and Montolivo toe-poked it into the arms of a desperate goalkeeper. Pirlo curled a set-piece just past the top corner and Balotelli was denied a free kick on the edge of the box when the Hector Moreno challenge took off his boot, but the referee waved play on.
Alessio Cerci replaced the very quiet Claudio Marchisio for a 4-3-3 with Giaccherini on the left. Flores was allowed a free header from a Guardado free kick near the corner flag, but steered it wide.
Balotelli finally restored Italy’s advantage using his strength. Giaccherini flicked up the pass for Balo to break away from one defender, squirm between two others and fire under the bar from nine yards. He was booked for whipping off his jersey to celebrate. The hitman was substituted soon after and received a standing ovation from the Maracanà crowd.
Buffon got down quickly to block a Raul Jimenez snapshot from distance.
Mexico 1-2 Italy
Scorers: Pirlo 27 (I), Hernandez pen 34 (M), Balotelli 78 (I)
Mexico: Corona; Flores, Rodriguez, Moreno, Salcido; Torrado, Aquino (Mier 53); Zavala (Jimenez 86), Giovani Dos Santos, Guardado; Hernandez
Italy: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Chiellini, De Sciglio; De Rossi, Pirlo, Montolivo; Marchisio (Cerci 68), Giaccherini (Aquilani 88); Balotelli (Gilardino 86)
Ref: Osses (CHI)