Italy finally showed up in a friendly when they took on Brazil. Giancarlo Rinaldi saw plenty of Azzurri positives in the 2-2 draw.
Football friendlies, as that bloke off MasterChef might say, do not get tougher than this. When Italy take on Brazil they put their previous World Cup victories on show like Michelin stars. Judging by their clash in Geneva, they can still produce some gourmet stuff.
It was a match to rip up all the stereotypes you might have about the two teams involved. In the first half in particular, the Azzurri were attacking, enterprising and created chances with great ease and style. The Verdeoro, for their part, were cool and clinical and lethal on the break.
Cesare Prandelli could have felt aggrieved to be 1-0 down at half-time, never mind two goals behind. His players produced about as slick a display as they have mustered in an Amichevole during his reign. But the opportunities which fell to Mario Balotelli, Pablo Osvaldo and others were spurned.
Indeed, if there was a lesson to be learned it was that you cannot afford to pass up too many goalscoring chances against the better sides in the world. La Nazionale knows better than most that there are no prizes for beautiful football without putting the ball in the net. Luckily, they caught on to that fact in time for the second half.
There was a certain irony in the tactical switch which produced the goods. Prandelli moved his team from 4-3-3 to 4-3-1-2 to scramble to a draw in the recent friendly with the Netherlands. He made the opposite move to kick-start the comeback against Brazil.
Not that his team played badly in the opening 45 minutes, quite the opposite. Emanuele Giaccherini operated well behind Osvaldo and Balotelli and the midfield regulars like Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Daniele De Rossi helped to boss the game. Only the defence, deprived of Giorgio Chiellini, had the odd scare, particularly on the left.
There is no doubt that Mattia De Sciglio is a great prospect, but he did have a tough night in Switzerland. Both goals came in his zone and, although no direct blame needs to be attached, he will feel he could have done better. Fortunately, he has a whole career ahead of him and he is starting out from a high level of performance.
Tweaking the formation saw Alessio Cerci and Stephan El Shaarawy flank Balotelli in attack while Osvaldo and Pirlo – perhaps with an eye on keeping him fresh for Malta – made way. It could be argued that it did not improve Italy's performance levels all that much. It did, however, bring them two precious goals.
The first will have annoyed Brazilian supporters. Poor defending at a corner allowed De Rossi to swing a leg and fire the ball past the previously impeccable Julio Cesar. The look on the Roma general's face said he knew he might have started something special.
And Super Mario – who else? – took that thought and ran with it. Pouncing on a misplaced opposition pass he strode towards goal with only one thought in mind and delivered a breathtaking strike. His celebrations suggested even he was pretty pleased with that one.
At the full-time whistle, there were certainly reasons to be cheerful. This was as good as it has got in Prandelli friendlies. It gave an upbeat vibe about the quality of play the side can provide when it is properly focused on the job in hand. That needs to be maintained in Malta.
There is fine-tuning to be done, of course, and a few tactical puzzles still to be solved. But, overall, the game seemed to confirm that these will be two sides to watch when the World Cup comes around. Back in the studio, even the British TV pundits were grinning at the quality of the clash they had just witnessed. When you get two of the greats going toe-to-toe you can almost always guarantee they will produce top quality fare.
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