Italy versus Brazil might have been billed as an exhibition match and played on neutral territory, but in reality it was anything but friendly. These two heavyweights of the international game were sizing one another up for next summer's World Cup—while also relishing the opportunity to pit themselves against top opposition in the hope of discovering some personal flaws.
The scoreline hardly does the game justice. Friendly matches are rarely this good, and from start to finish this contest sparkled with the sort of excitement and flare usually reserved for international finals or the latter stages of the Champions League.
After starting positively, the Azzurri suddenly found themselves two down and seemingly finished after just 30 minutes. Incredibly, Italy fought back to earn a deserved draw—and could have even won the game.
Showing the sort of tactical nous and confidence in his team's intelligence and ability to adapt, Cesare Prandelli switched from the default setting of 4-3-1-2, which was obviously not working against the Brazilians, to a more effective 4-3-3.
The difference was night and day. And though Prandelli will have to think on the subject a little more before committing to one formation over another, the reaction from his players on the pitch said a lot.
Key figures such as Daniele De Rossi, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli looked a lot more comfortable in the 4-3-3, perhaps because it placed them in positions and situations much more similar to those they've become accustomed to at club level.
The width offered by the 4-3-3 switch seemed to unlock Italy's potential, bringing out the best in the likes of Balo, who looked very comfortable with El Shaarawy drifting in from out on the wing. Italy's strength in the centre of the pitch, and the passing abilities of players like Andrea Pirlo and even the combative De Rossi allows the Azzurri a security in the middle that few teams could match even with an extra man.
Claudio Marchisio pulled out at the last minute through illness, but assuming the Juventus man is fit, he is another player who would add yet more guile and steel to a three-man midfield.
Brazil for their part will know that few of their opponents on the road to the 2014 World Cup will have as much talent and tenacity in reserve, but there will be questions for Scolari nonetheless, because with such a commanding lead early on his men should have finished the game off.
Balotelli, scorer of a wonder goal from outside the box to bring Italy level, was harsh on his performance after the game, even though the national papers all heralded the efforts of the young AC Milan striker.
“I would only give myself six out of 10,” said Balo after the game. “I missed too many scoring opportunities."
His manager was less critical of the forward, and seemed confident that Italy are now on the right track. Speaking after the game, he said:
Balotelli had chances and he did well with his goal. His first thought is always that of the team and this is the attitude of a champion. He has great potential and can become one of the best five players in the world. He just needs to find some consistency.
The game looked like it was over after we conceded two goals within 30 minutes, instead, we reacted well and showed some interesting things. The 4-3-3 gives you width and creates one on one situations, but these things need to be tested.
We played a great game, one of the best since I’ve been in charge. But the most important thing now is to focus on Tuesday because there are three important points at stake against Malta.
Friendly results can be misleading. But Brazil came prepared for this glamour fixture and were clearly troubled by Italy's fightback. Prandelli's men took their chance to show the world that come next summer, they'll be ready for the best of them. And though the bookies might still doubt their abilities, there's every reason to believe that come Brazil 2014, Italy can challenge for honours.