In the third and final match of Group A, Brazil handed Italy an emphatic loss, defeating them 4-2 in Salvador on Saturday evening as the hosts claimed top of the group. Fred was the cream of the crop amongst all goal scorers as he earned a brace. Dante scored off a header while Neymar struck on a magnificent free kick goal. Emanuele Giaccherini and Giorgio Chiellini got on the score sheet for the Azzurri.
The game began at an upbeat pace. Brazil started their first two matches with goals in the first 10 minutes of each, but despite some sloppy Italian passing at the back, the Selecao couldn’t capitalize. They did, however, control possession and had the majority of shots in the opening interval. In fact, the Brazilians had a 9-2 advantage in that category.
Due to some injuries, Prandelli made two early substitutions. First it was Giaccherini for Riccardo Montolivo, who was playing a deeper role in place of the hurt Andrea Pirlo. Then as luck would have it, Ignazio Abate suffered a knock to his arm, forcing Cristian Maggio to replace him, all within four minutes of each other.
The key moment of the first half came when David Luiz, one game removed from suffering a broken nose, had to be substituted due to a hamstring injury. The knock isn’t serious and should enable him to be available for selection for the semi-final, but he couldn’t play a further part on Saturday. Bayern Munich’s Dante replaced Luiz in the 34th minute and it didn’t take him long to make an impact.
One of his first touches resulted in him botching a clearance, but Mario Balotelli couldn’t get to the loose ball in time, luckily for Dante. He managed to nullify that error by grabbing the opening goal of the match. Neymar crossed the ball into the box, which Fred got to with his head, but wasn’t quite enough to get past Gianluigi Buffon. Dante popped up on the far post and buried it to make it 1-0 for the home side.
There were claims for offside from the Italians, and replays showed that Dante was just a step offside when the cross entered the penalty area. Still, the goal stood and Dante delivered the dagger to the Azzurri right on the cusp of halftime.
The second half commenced the same way the first interval did, but Brazil couldn’t find a second despite the early pressure. Just a few minutes later, Italy finally received a magnificent chance. On the counter, Balotelli picked out Giaccherini on the right side of the box with a clever heel pass. He made no mistake and slotted it past Julio Cesar into the bottom left corner to give the Italians a way back into the game. A draw wouldn’t have done Italy any good as Brazil would still advance by virtue of their superior goal difference.
However, the Selecao took the lead shortly after the tying strike. Neymar won a foul within 20 yards of the Italian goal, and opted to take the resulting free kick himself. He then placed it into the top corner to gift his team with a 2-1 advantage after 55 minutes.
Brazil appeared to have clinched the match with Fred’s decisive finish to make it 3-1 shortly thereafter, but those Italians just wouldn’t say no, as has been the case since the day manager Cesare Prandelli was appointed.
Under controversial circumstances yet again, another goal was scored. Off a corner, Giorgio Chiellini shot the loose ball from inside the box, and brought Italy back to within one. However, a whistle was blown just prior to Chiellini’s strike, but on the replays, it appeared as if Luiz Gustavo hauled down Balotelli and referee Ravshan Irmatov was going to award a penalty. According to the FIFA guidelines, an official can reverse his decision as long as the play hasn’t restarted, meaning the Brazilian players’ protests were irrelevant and they had nothing to complain about other than their shocking defending.
It was Italy, though, who had the worst showing at the back. Just as it looked like the Azzurri were going to steal another match, Fred came to the rescue for the 50,000 Brazilian supporters. Bernard found Marcelo at the top of the box, who attempted a shot on Buffon, but the Juventus shot-stopper managed to keep it out. However, Fred pounced on the rebound and finally put the nail in the Italian coffin just two minutes remaining plus stoppage time.
Brazil will now most likely face Uruguay, barring a Nigerian upset over Spain, but surely the Uruguayans goal difference will receive a sizeable boost when they face Tahiti on Sunday, enabling them to advance to the semi-final.
Italy, on the other hand, may get to battle La Roja in a rematch of the Euro 2012 final when the eventual champions defeated the Azzurri 4-0 on July 1st. Considering the commotion in defence, it could be an even worse night for the Italians. Their dreadful passing was the biggest downfall for them against Brazil, which meant that Italy had just 41% possession. While they were able to score twice, it’ll be far more difficult against the European and World champions. Prandelli has a lot work to do before then.