Italy jumped out on the front foot early of the 2013 Confederations Cup and were the aggressors for most of the first half of an eventual 2-1 victory over Mexico.
Mario Balotelli saw quite a few touches but couldn't do much with his chances, and Emanuele Giaccherini put himself into some attacking positions as well.
You just knew the Azzurri were going to find the net in the first half, and it came in the 27th minute.
It was Andrea Pirlo's 100th cap for Italy, and he celebrated in style. He lined up for a free kick just to the left of goal about 25 yards out. As fans have seen so many times, Pirlo curled it perfectly into the top left corner.
Set pieces have been where Pirlo is his most lethal, per ESPN's Paul Carr:
Andrea Pirlo's last eight international goals have been on free kicks (5) or penalties (3).— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 16, 2013
Mexico did not shy away after conceding the goal. They remained patient in the attack, and it paid off in the 33rd minute.
Giovani dos Santos was brought down in the box by Andrea Barzagli. It was great work by Dos Santos and a clear foul by Barzagli. The case could be made that the Italian defender should have been sent off.
FOX Soccer's Kyle McCarthy was blunt in his criticism of Barzagli:
Utterly needless penalty for Barzagli to concede.— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) June 16, 2013
Javier Hernandez stepped up and slotted the penalty home to level the score.
The first half would end 1-1, with Italy continuing to look like the better side. Mexico came into this tournament on a tough run, and they looked very nervous on the pitch at times.
However, Mexican football expert Tom Marshall thought the performance was encouraging considering Mexico's recent matches:
Halftime at the Maracana: Mexico 1-1 Italy - Causes for concern for Chepo, although it has been a marked improvement on recent performances.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) June 16, 2013
The second half was more of the same.
Italy were the side in control for much of the match. They got free kicks in dangerous areas and created the most chances in the attacking third. Mexico weren't completely abject, but it became apparent they would have to do something differently in order to go ahead.
Instead, they didn't make any major adjustments, and the Azzurri gained even more control of the match.
It was beginning to look like the Italians wouldn't get that critical goal to go ahead. Their dominating performance would all be for naught.
That was, of course, until it was Super Mario time.
In the 78th minute, Balotelli received a pass from Giaccherini. Being swarmed by defenders, the striker remained unmoved and managed to score what was an incredible goal. It wasn't a beautiful goal by any stretch of the imagination, but it was rather astounding for the sheer physicality involved.
Italian football expert Tancredi Palmeri was one of many who were in disbelief about Balotelli's goal:
Not 1. Not 2. 3. 3 defenders on him.— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 16, 2013
That was the last real action of the match. It was a deserved victory for Italy. They were the superior team on the pitch and provided some great football at times.
For Mexico, this is yet another concerning result for De la Torre's squad and has done nothing to allay the fears of El Tri supporters.
Jose de Jesus Corona, Mexico: B+
Jose de Jesus Corona has been one of Mexico's best players in recent months. The announcers brought up the point during the match that when your goalkeeper is your best player, something is probably wrong.
For Mexico, that's a pretty accurate statement. Corona was very good in this match, and Italy could have been up 3-1 or 4-1 had he not made some key saves. Until the outfielders start playing better, El Tri will be in trouble.
Corona would get an A for his performance, but his reaction on Pirlo's goal was a bit confusing. He pulled his hands back as if he thought the ball was going out, or he was going to hit the post. Neither happened.
Javier Hernandez, Mexico: C+
Javier Hernandez needs to step up. He scored Mexico's lone goal, but it came from the penalty spot. For most of the match, Chicharito was quiet and didn't make much of an impact.
His performance relies on his supply, but Hernandez can't simply just sit in the box and wait for people to give him the ball. More is expected of him, and he needs to deliver in Mexico's next match.
Andrea Pirlo, Italy: A-
Zonal Marking summed up Andrea Pirlo's performance best:
CLASSIC PIRLO— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) June 16, 2013
Pirlo wasn't a menace for El Tri's defense because he was running all over the pitch. He picked his passes well and made the most of his free kicks.
The goal he scored was astounding in that Pirlo continues to be just as lethal a set-piece taker as he was in his prime. Age has done nothing to hinder him in that regard.
Mario Balotelli, Italy: A
Mario Balotelli deserved a goal. He was a constant threat to the Mexican back four all game. Although he didn't make the most of some of his chances, Balotelli more than made up for it with his goal.
It's performances like these that make you realize why Balotelli is worth the headache. He's always going to be a problem in terms of off-field and on-field incidents; however, Balotelli is one of the best young strikers in the world when he wants to be.
|Jose de Jesus Corona ||B+
|Gerardo Flores ||C+
|Francisco Rodriguez ||D+
|Hector Moreno ||C-|
|Carlos Salcido ||C
|Javier Aquino (off '53) ||C-
Gerrardo Torrado ||C|
|Jesus Zavala (off '85) ||C
|Andres Guardado ||C|
Giovani dos Santos ||B
|Javier Hernandez ||C+
|Hiram Mier ||C
|Raul Jimenez ||INC
Gianluigi Buffon ||B|
|Ignazio Abate ||B-|
|Giorgio Chiellini ||B|
|Andrea Bargazli ||C|
Mattia De Sciglio ||B-|
|Claudio Marchisio (off '68) ||C+
|Daniele De Rossi ||B|
|Ricardo Montolivo ||A-|
|Emanuele Giaccherini (off '88) ||B+|
|Andrea Pirlo ||A-
|Mario Balotelli (off '85) ||A
Alessio Cerci ||C
|Alberto Gilardino ||INC
|Alberto Aquilani ||INC|
Things don't get any easier for Mexico, as they take on Brazil in their next game. It will be key to get something from that match considering Brazil already have three points.
Italy get Japan in their next fixture. Japan is fresh off a 3-0 loss to Brazil, so the Italians should be looking forward to this one.