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Confederations Cup: Italy vs Brazil

The last matchday of group play in the Confederations Cup gives us the Selecao against the Azzurri. With nine World Cup titles between them, need I say more?

Valerio Pennicino

Unlike the previous combatants, Italy and Brazil have a bit of recent history, having squared off three times over the past four years, meeting as recently as March. On that winter night the Azzurri and the Selecao played to a 2-2 draw in Geneva, with Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli scoring within three minutes of one another to pull even with Brazil. When you take their recent history into account, this draw looks miraculous. In 2009 alone, Brazil trounced Italy 5-0 over two matches, one of which was played during the '09 Confederations Cup.

The Confederations Cup may not carry the same weight as the World Cup, but it has a bit more oomph than your typical friendly. Since they're the host nation, now seems an opportune time to discuss the Selecao's home record. When the scope is limited to non-friendly matches (unfriendlies/frenemies), Brazil is in the middle of an astonishing 54 match unbeaten streak.

Can Italy put the kibosh on Brazil's winning ways? The historical signs, both present (see above) and past, don't point towards yes. In fact, you have to go back more than 30 years to find the last time Italy tasted success against Brazil-World Cup 1982, to be exact.

But since Italy and Brazil played only three months ago, let's take a look back at that match instead.

Last Meeting: March 21, 2013

The Stade de Genève played host to one of the more glamorous matchups friendly football can offer. The nations with nine World Cup titles between them put on a grand show for the folks of Geneva, tallying four goals and 37 combined shots.

Brazil jumped to the early lead, thanks to an unfortunate clearance off the head of Leonardo Bonucci, who deflected an outswinging cross intended for Oscar, right to an awaiting Fred, who calmly volleyed it past Buffon's near post.

Nine minutes later Neymar picked the ball up in his own half, sprinted through the Italian midfield, and deftly laid the ball of to Oscar, who beat Buffon low and away, slotting one into the corner of the net from about eight yards out.

De Rossi would open the Italian ledger in the 54th minute, scoring off a corner with some sort of quasi-Rick James karate kick, narrowly beating the defender to the ball. (can you believe that skit is almost 10 years old already?)

Super Mario, as is his want, scored another incredible goal in the 57th minute, leveling affairs at two goals apiece. Balotelli, surrounded by four defenders, put on a beautiful display of footballing physics, imparting just the right amount of topspin on the ball to drop it in the top corner, past a lunging Julio Cesar.

De Rossi, Pirlo, Balotelli, Buffon, Neymar, Hulk, Fred....there was just a nasty amount of talent on the pitch that night; expect no less on Saturday.

except for...

Saturday's Match:

De Rossi (suspension) and Pirlo (injury) will be absent from Italy's chosen few on Saturday. DDR got a bit too agro last week, earning the referees scorn in consecutive matches, forcing him out of this one. Meanwhile the Metronome's MRI revealed a strained right calf that will force him out of this match and perhaps even the semifinals.

In case you haven't picked up on the theme/my beating of a dead horse, De Rossi and Pirlo are the peanut butter and jelly of Italy's sandwich, so the manner in which Cesare Prandelli proceeds without them is a pressing concern. Injuries and suspensions become graver within the context of cup competitions, where the window of competition is shorter and the pressure magnified, making squad depth and lineup rotation of utmost importance.

While DDR and Pirlo are damn near irreplaceable, Prandelli does have a plethora of options from which he can conscript temporary charges. Alessandro Diamanti has forced his way into the Azzurri rotation over the past 18 months, so he's certainly near the top of the list of De Rossi substitutes. Similarly, Riccardo Montolivo can drop back in front of defense, a place where some say he's best suited anyway; Alberto Aquilani can even relive his youth as a defensive midfielder. With a place in the semi-finals booked, Prandelli already had the freedom to experiment with lineup choices, perhaps even resting Balotelli or Buffon, but the loss of two critical players might be the impetus Prandelli needed to take some chances and really test the depth of his squad.

With only eight teams in the tournament, resisting the urge to look ahead is really irrelevant, as there are only so many scenarios that might unfold; indeed, the only uncertainty heading into the weekend is who will finish second behind Spain in Group B, Uruguay or Nigeria. Facing Brazil in the midst of a 50+ match winning streak on their home soil, the odds of victory become slim, while the specter of yet another Spain-Italy matchup looms larger.

Even though both nations have already advanced, the onus of representing one's nation is omnipresent. So, while a team with such an impressive stockpile of talent and riding a seemingly endless wave of success might seem immune to stress, playing in front of their home nation, which happens to be in the throes of protest, and with a 50+ game winning streak on the line, some added pressure might fall on the shoulders of Scolari's men.

But if they think pressure exists in this match, wait until next summer. With Brazil's artisans at the historical apex of the beautiful game, the pressure to win, and to win beautifully, will be unlike anything a host nation has faced before.

While the proceedings of this particular fortnight will eventually pale in comparison to the events of next summer, the presence of the Azzurri, who stand on the shoulders of their own giants, gives this matchup some added zeal.