A sensational free-kick from Andrea Pirlo and a powerful strike from Mario Balotelli gave Italy three points in the opening game of the Confederations Cup against Mexico.
The victory was very convincing: Italy dominated the whole game and produced some of the most entertaining displays of football of the year, and an opening win is a good result before they face Japan on Wednesday.
Still, head coach Cesare Prandelli might have to figure out a way to transform all those wonderful chances into goals – something that the Azzurri have been having trouble doing so since he took charge of the national team following their disastrous campaign in South Africa.
Let's recall the match against England at Euro 2012 for a moment. Italy also dominated the whole game for 120 minutes, but the decisive goal never came. It wasn’t even like England played well that day; Italy just wasted chance after chance before the match went into a penalty shoot-out.
The same happened at the Maracana on Sunday. When the match was 1-1, Italy had many chances to score, but they never materialised.
Balotelli wasted a great chance by the end of the first half when his Milan team-mate Riccardo Montolivo was in a better position near the box, choosing to shoot instead when he should have passed.
Riccardo Montolivo poked the ball right into the goalkeeper’s arms when Pirlo’s free-kick got deflected off the wall. Italy knew how to create chances – in a pleasant way – but they did not know well how to score.
They were lucky that Mexico did not capitalise on those woeful wastes; if the Mexicans pressed forward more, Italy might have been punished for missing all those chances already.
Still, Prandelli would be very satisfied with the performance of several players. One of them is Emanuele Giaccherini. The Juventus midfielder did a marvellous job supporting Balotelli, dribbling well, and Pirlo’s long passes always found him near the box.
The second goal was also thanks to his magical flick of the moment, although we will now only remember Balotelli showing his muscles seconds later.
Another notable mention is Milan’s own left-back Mattia De Sciglio. The 20-year-old improved significantly from his senior debut against Brazil in March. While acting nervous at the beginning, he gradually adapted to the pace of the game and provided much support on the left-wing for Giaccherini and Montolivo to advance.
I would also want to praise Andrea Barzagli for a moment. While it was his nap that cost Italy the penalty, he had been defending well throughout the whole match.
It is disappointing that Claudio Marchisio had a very quiet performance. The Juventus midfielder, rumoured with a link to Manchester United this summer, was invisible for the whole game, and he might be benched in favour of Alberto Aquilani or Alessandro Diamanti in the following game, given that substitute Alessio Cerci failed to deliver much as well.
Japan should not be a tough opponent for the Azzurri. Unless they kept wasting chances again, or Balotelli did something crazy to get a red card in the first minute of the match, getting three points should not be hard for Italy.
Prandelli may be thinking about the final group stage match against Brazil already. After all, he for sure would like to avoid facing Spain in the semi-finals.
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