Italy vs. Brazil: 6 Things We Learned from International Friendly
Brazil and Italy played out a scintillating 2-2 draw in Geneva on Thursday night in a match that defied the reputation of friendlies being dull, lifeless affairs.
The Selecao led by two goals at half-time, thanks to some excellent counter-attacking and wonderful finishes from both Fred and Oscar. Italy were not done yet, though.
After the interval, the Azzurri fought back and, had it not been for the miraculous goalkeeping of Julio Cesar, could easily have left with a positive result. In the end, though, goals from Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli could only earn the European side a draw.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the lessons learned from the clash in Switzerland.
Neymar Can Perform vs. Top European Sides
The whole argument against Neymar was clearly not true, even if his recent showings against European sides had been poor. Anyone who has watched him week after week would tell you that.
However, following recent criticism of his performances, the young Santos star had a point to prove against Italy and did just that.
He was a major threat throughout, and forced Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon into a tough save within the opening minutes of the encounter.
His defining contribution, though, would come in an assist for Chelsea midfielder Oscar. Picking the ball up on the right, Neymar hared infield and skipped around the attempted challenge of Pirlo before picking out a divine reverse pass to his colleague.
Arguably, he could have had further assists to his name had it not been for sloppy finishing by Hulk. The closest he would come to a goal, though, was a well-directed free-kick that was comfortably saved by Buffon.
A good night's work in Geneva.
Alessio Cerci Has an International Future
Alessio Cerci's rise to international level has been a slow and bumpy one, but he did enough in the 45 minutes he was afforded on Thursday evening to suggest he should be there to stay.
Positioned on the right flank, Cerci was involved from the moment he came on and caused major problems for full-back Filipe Luis.
The Torino forward was desperately unlucky not to finish the match with an assist to his name. A lovely whipped cross into the area found Balotelli, but the forward could not keep his header on target.
There is plenty of competition for places within the Azzurri ranks, but Cerci should have shown enough to manager Prandelli to suggest he should be afforded more time against Malta next Tuesday.
Hernanes Has to Be Part of Brazil's 2014 Plans
Lazio central midfielder Hernanes has been in and out of the Brazil setup for sometime, playing the odd game before spending months on the sidelines once more. That cycle must stop.
Playing in a deeper midfield role alongside debutant Fernando, he was an assured presence throughout as he sought to construct Brazil's playing patterns.
His distribution was impressive and has been something Brazil have lacked with a midfield of Ramires and Paulinho. Both are incredible players, but neither can boast Hernanes' range of passing.
Scolari must have been pleased with what he saw on this occasion and, barring any fitness issues, will surely give his possible deep-lying playmaker another run out against Russia.
Ball retention is a key factor in the modern game at elite levels and Brazil have very few who can claim to be at Hernanes' level in that respect.
Balotelli Is Best off Away from Manchester City
Mario Balotelli will never fulfil his potential. Or, so they said.
Since leaving Manchester City for his beloved AC Milan in January, the Italian striker has scored eight goals in eight appearances. His all-round play, for both club and country, has also been outstanding.
It would appear that he is benefiting immensely from parting company with Roberto Mancini, with the pair seemingly harming each other toward the end of his spell at Eastlands.
When at his best, he is a force of nature: tall, strong, fast and technically gifted.
Julio Cesar did his best to keep the renowned bad boy of Italian football at bay, but despite three brilliant saves, he could not prevent Balotelli curling home his side's wonderful equaliser.
Hulk Is Still Not Justifying His Selection
It was not a good evening for Hulk against Italy, as the Zenit St. Petersburg forward squandered attacking opportunity after attacking opportunity from his position on the flank.
Having started the game on the right side, Hulk was soon switched to the left as Oscar offered more protection to the under-siege Daniel Alves.
It was the beginning of a bad night for the ex-Porto man.
As Brazil countered with pace and incision, several attacks worked their way to Hulk in space on the left wing, only for his shots to never threaten goalkeeper Buffon.
Having never played for one of Brazil's biggest sides, he is often the target of heavy criticism in his homeland after poor displays. Unfortunately, Friday newspapers are sure to keep with this trend.
One man who will be rubbing his hands with glee, though, is PSG's Lucas Moura, who stands a good chance of inclusion once fully recovered from injury.
Both Sides Will Be Formidable Contenders in 2014
With 15 months remaining until the World Cup, both sides should feel like they are in a reasonable position to contend at the competition.
Brazil's recent record may not be good, but there were enough signs in the encounter to suggest that, with a few adjustments and returning players, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
For Italy, the situation is similar. While Spain and Germany may be ahead in the eyes of most observers, neither side are untouchable. The Azzurri will be confident of going deep in the competition as their younger stars gain experience.
It was a pulsating encounter, played at breakneck speed while still retaining a wonderfully high technical level. If they can play similarly against other opponents, neither side will hang their heads.
Both projects have much work to do and areas to improve in. They will, though, be incredibly hard to beat come the 2014 World Cup if they can keep working along these lines.