Brazil was far more dangerous in the attack, but any look back at Italy’s two to four loss to Brazil has to be prefaced with the caveat that Daniele De Rossi and Andre Pirlo were unavailable to play and that Paulinho was being rested by Brazil to let his ankle recover.
Brazil deserved to win, and particularly Neymar’s third goal in three games was a free-kick golaço that had nothing to do with Italy’s line-up and everything to do with Neymar’s steady string of big performances on the world stage.
It’s worth repeating that Brazil too was a missing a vital player in its midfield: Paulinho. As one of the world’s best box-to-box midfielders and Luiz Gustavo’s partner in the defensive section of the midfield, Brazil was without one of its key ball winners and main protagonists in the midfield, and yet still Brazil won.
If Italy was missing De Rossi and Pirlo, then it’s fair to note that without Ramires even on the roster as a replacement for Paulinho, Brazil was itself missing half of what Italy was missing.
Both Italy and Brazil were without at least one major midfield piece, and this affected how Italy and Brazil played.
Without Pirlo and De Rossi, Mario Balotelli lacked two of the players who are most responsible for either ensuring that Italy has a strong percentage of the possession or providing Balotelli with final balls or at the very least, a steady stream of service.
Gigi Buffon was blamed for two of Brazil’s goals as he blocked two of Brazil’s shots as opposed to catching them, and given his skill level, perhaps blocking them was all he was able to do, despite what the commentators said.
One of Buffon’s blocks was purposely played away from the goalmouth but Brazil’s central defender, Dante, a native of Salvador where the game was played, pounced on the rebound and was in ecstasy as he scored in the Arena Fonte Nova, home of the team that he has been a fan of since childhood, Bahia.
Even without Pirlo and De Rossi, Italy was totally guilty of conceding the third goal to Brazil when Fred outmuscled the much stronger Giorgio Chiellini in the penalty box to roof a left-footed shot into the upper 90 on the left side of the goal.
In many ways, Brazil scored two legitimate goals, and Italy only scored one.
With a possible offside on Brazil’s first goal, a Neymar golaço on the second goal, a well-deserved goal by Fred on the third goal, and a mishandled shot by Buffon on the fourth goal, Brazil scored two totally legitimate goals compared to Italy’s one legitimate goal scored by Emanuele Giaccherini off a balletic backwards flicked assist by Balotelli.
Neymar versus Balotelli and Italy versus Brazil in this first Confederations Cup encounter doesn’t tell the whole story.
Even without De Rossi and Pirlo, Brazil deserved to win, but in the duel of Neymar versus Balotelli is far from over.
Neymar stole the headlines with his free kick golaço, but Balotelli’s backwards volleyed assist to Giaccherini was outrageously brazen. Neymar won, but Brazil almost had to resort to wrestling and kicking Balotelli to stop him.
The Confederations Cup isn’t over, and Balotelli and Neymar offer the world the chance to perhaps see the world’s most talented second striker (Neymar) and the world’s most talented first-striker (Balotelli) face off against each other again in this tournament.
Balotelli has learned how to keep his cool, and Neymar has learned how to body check and get more physical with opponents, in the hopes of deterring them from fouling him too much.
This new physicality was new from Neymar, and perhaps it brings him one step closer from being immune to comments from doubters who say he doesn’t have the physicality to play in Europe.
Neymar unfortunately hurt Ignazio Abate with his body check, but it was time for Neymar to start knocking people off him.
Some observers like to dismiss the absence of certain key players as the reason for a win by the other team, and other observers view the absence of key players as a valid and important piece of analysis.
Neymar and Balotelli both performed, and Italy and Brazil both advanced out of the group stage.
The battle between Balotelli and Neymar continues, and the additional subplot of seeing how Neymar and Balotelli compare to Spain loams on the horizon.
Balotelli and Neymar are coming for Messi, and Brazil and Italy are both coming for Spain…and Germany.