Italy vs. Brazil: Key Battles to Watch in International Friendly

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IMarch 18, 2013

Italy vs. Brazil: Key Battles to Watch in International Friendly

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    Brazil take on Italy in Geneva on Thursday with plenty to prove after a humbling defeat to England in Luiz Felipe Scolari's first match since returning as manager last month.

    Playing the Euro 2012 finalists will mean the competition doesn't get any easier for the 2002 World Cup-winning coach. And, with a series of recently injured players, he may have to do so without his ideal lineup.

    Brazil don't have time for excuses, though. The Confederations Cup and World Cup are both fast approaching and failure will simply not be accepted on home soil.

    The match will be a good test for some of Italy's younger players ahead of future challenges and another step on the road towards next year's tournament in Brazil.

    With that in mind, there will be some interesting battles on show as individual players compete for their long-term spaces on the national team.

    For Brazil's side in particular, every game could affect their international future. Let's take a look at some of the areas where the game will be won and lost.

Alessio Cerci vs. Marcelo

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    Azzurri manager Cesare Prandelli has chosen to include Torino winger Alessio Cerci in the national team setup for the first time this week for the fixtures with Brazil and Malta.

    The likelihood is that, ahead of a World Cup qualifier next Tuesday, Cerci will be given an opportunity to impress in the more relaxed atmosphere of an international friendly.

    Cerci has been in fine form since joining Torino last summer and will be looking to prove himself on the international stage. In doing so, though, he will face a formidable opponent.

    Marcelo is renowned as one of the finest attacking full-backs in the world game and will be a real test of Cerci's dedication to tracking back and his ability to dominate a defender.

    However, the Real Madrid man will afford opportunities to the attacking player, and Cerci must take advantage of these chances when they present themselves.

Andrea Pirlo vs. Oscar

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    When Juventus and Chelsea met in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League this season, the midfield battle between Oscar and Andrea Pirlo was one of the standout features of the ties.

    The Brazilian has proven to be a dedicated and disciplined player in his attacking midfield role and, in the tie at Stamford Bridge, did an excellent marking job on the Italian.

    In Turin, though, the Italian was back on form and helped his side to a comfortable 3-0 victory. On that occasion, Oscar was utilised in a different role.

    For Brazil, though, Oscar will be back in his preferred central role, bringing him back into direct contact with Pirlo. Brazil will hope that he can repeat his club-level success once more.

    The Italian, though, has not made a successful career for himself by making the same mistakes twice. If Oscar is to keep him quiet once more, it will require an even better performance on this occasion.

Stephan El Shaarawy vs. Daniel Alves

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    Another duo who've recently met at club level are Milan forward Stephan El Shaarawy and Barcelona full-back Dani Alves. Despite his side's overall defeat, it's the Italian who's had the better of the pair's individual battles.

    In the first leg of the Round of 16 Champions League clash, El Shaarawy got behind the Brazilian on several occasions as AC Milan exploited the tendency of Barcelona's full-backs to push forward.

    Alves will afford him the same opportunities later this week.

    For the Brazilian, it is a chance to really ram home his quality to the audience in Brazil. El Shaarawy is receiving a lot of hype at the moment and shutting him out of the game would do much for public feeling towards Alves.

    There are still many who feel he has never truly performed up to his best levels in a Brazil shirt.

    Similar to the Cerci-Marcelo matchup, El Shaarawy must be disciplined if he is to negate his opponent as an attacking threat. If he is patient, Alves will eventually stray out of position.

    A battle of tactical discipline awaits.

Claudio Marchisio vs. Ramires

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    The engine rooms of their respective sides, Ramires and Claudio Marchisio's performances will go a long way in deciding which way the result will swing.

    With Paulinho out of the encounter according to, Brazil will likely choose to play a recognised holding midfielder and free Ramires to play the box-to-box role that he's become known for.

    In turn, that should allow him to improve upon his rather subdued recent performances in a national team shirt.

    On Thursday, he will come up against another who is among the best in the business in Marchisio, and the duo will no doubt set about battling to provide momentum for their side.

    Marchisio won the battle between the pair at club level earlier this season, although Ramires will no doubt point to the poor showings of his Chelsea teammates as an argument in his favour.

    The Brazilian, then, has much to prove.

    While Marchisio is certain of his place in the Italian setup for the time being, Ramires must show once more what he can offer Brazil. If he doesn't, there are plenty of players eyeing up his position ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

Ignazio Abate vs. Neymar

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    Another big week lies ahead for Neymar as he travels to Europe once more with doubters circling in the distance.

    It was only recently that Pele criticised his showings against European opponents, and the Santos youngster will no doubt feel that he has a record to set straight against both Italy and Russia.

    Likely starting as a second striker, the youngster will naturally drift to the left channel, and it is there that he will likely come face-to-face with Ignazio Abate of AC Milan.

    Blessed with incredible speed, Abate is a converted winger who has made a fine job of transitioning himself to full-back. That said, there are still defensive weaknesses to his game.

    Scolari will no doubt single the forward-thinking Abate out as a weakness Brazil can look to exploit. Neymar can thrive on even the smallest space afforded to him and will look to capitalise on any error by the Italian.

    Can he, though? His ability is unquestionable, but he has yet to truly show his skills against European opposition. Or, at least, to show his ability consistently.

    He will be motivated and hoping to get back to his best form after a recent dip. For Abate, it is a chance to stamp his authority on the Italian right-back position.