Italy fought hard, were unlucky and scored with Emanuele Giaccherini and Giorgio Chiellini, but were beaten 4-2 by Brazil.
Both sides were already qualified, but Italy had to beat Brazil – something they hadn’t achieved since 1982 – in order to top Group A and avoid Spain in the semi-final. Andrea Pirlo was injured with Daniele De Rossi suspended, so Riccardo Montolivo took the playmaker role. Leonardo Bonucci, Ignazio Abate, Alessandro Diamanti, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva stepped into the starting XI. Brazil missed the injured Paulinho, but rested none of their top stars.
Anti-Government protests sweeping the nation saw a huge military and police presence outside the Arena Fonte Nove in Salvador.
The Selecao came flying out from the start, as in the opening minute Giorgio Chiellini needed a crucial tackle on Oscar and the move continued with Gigi Buffon parrying from Hulk at the near post.
David Luiz was booked for going through the back of Mario Balotelli, then the Milan striker turned wide after Marchisio resisted a Hulk challenge down the left. An Oscar backheel flick sent Neymar clear, but the angled drive flashed wide.
Italy were forced into a substitution after 26 minutes, as Montolivo had a head injury and made way for Emanuele Giaccherini, moving Marchisio to central midfield.
Moments later Neymar was booked for a foul on Abate that dislocated his shoulder, so Christian Maggio came on. Brazil also had to make a change, as David Luiz bruised his thigh during a tackle on Diamanti and was replaced by Dante.
Balotelli was surprised by a Dante error and couldn’t quite get the first touch to turn inside the box. A Neymar give-and-go was dangerous, but his shot was accidentally charged down by teammate Oscar.
Luiz Gustavo went into the book for holding back Candreva on the counter-attack, but the Selecao took the lead in first half stoppages.
Buffon performed a good save on Fred’s header from a free kick, but could do nothing on Dante’s follow-up at the back post. Replays show both Dante and Thiago Silva were offside during the build-up.
After the restart Buffon smothered a weak Oscar effort and Candreva blasted off target from distance.
Italy drew level with a classic goal, as Balotelli flicked on the ball with his back leg in a scorpion kick to send Giaccherini clear down the right and his fierce angled drive went across Julio Cesar into the far bottom corner.
Neymar earned a free kick right on the edge of the box, though he was already airborne when colliding with Maggio’s legs. It proved crucial, as he curled a fantastic set play over the wall into the far top corner.
Maggio showed good strength to hold off Neymar as Hulk tried to send him clear down the middle, then Julio Cesar flew to palm a Balotelli free kick out from under the crossbar.
Balotelli fell in the box under a messy Dante challenge and as the move continued Giaccherini at full stretch just failed to get on the end of a ball over the top.
Brazil went 3-1 up, as Fred chested down a long ball over the top, turned Chiellini and smashed a powerful finish under the bar from a tight angle.
Diamanti attempted an audacious curler with the outside of his left boot that was deflected out for a corner.
Italy got one back from that set play, though in controversial circumstances. The referee had pointed to the spot for a penalty when both Balotelli and Bonucci were brought down, but seconds later Chiellini prodded the loose ball in from eight yards. Brazil were furious that the referee allowed the goal rather than went with the spot-kick.
Stephan El Shaarawy, who earlier today had said on Twitter he wasn’t even fit for the bench due to a bruised foot, replaced Diamanti.
Balotelli’s free kick was charged down by Fred’s arm in the wall, but the referee waved play on. From that corner, Maggio’s bullet header from six yards cracked against the crossbar!
Balotelli found space from a Candreva free kick, but fired well wide, as the Azzurri poured forward and pinned Brazil back in the final stages. However, the Selecao added to their tally instead. Buffon parried Marcelo’s shot, but again could do nothing on Fred’s follow-up from six yards.
El Shaarawy just failed to get his foot to a ball across the face of goal.
Italy 2-4 Brazil
Scorers: Dante 45 (B), Giaccherini 51 (I), Neymar 55 (B), Fred 66, 89 (B), Chiellini 71 (I)
Italy: Buffon; Abate (Maggio 30), Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; Aquilani, Montolivo (Giaccherini 25); Marchisio, Diamanti (El Shaarawy 72), Candreva; Balotelli
Brazil: Julio Cesar; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz (Dante 33), Marcelo; Hernanes, Luiz Gustavo; Hulk (Fernando 76), Oscar, Neymar (Bernard 69); Fred
Ref: Irmatov (UZB)