In a game that could determine who goes through to the 2013 Confederations Cup semifinals, Italy beat Mexico 2-1 with a goal in each half.
It was the usual suspects who struck for the Azzurri. Andrea Pirlo curled in a superb free kick, and Mario Balotelli powered home a response to Javier Hernandez's penalty. Mexico now goes on to battle host Brazil, while Italy will attempt to clinch a spot in the semis against Japan.
Italy should be happy with the means, as well as the ends. It wasn't a perfect entrance into the tournament as mistakes were indeed made, but Italy dominated a capable opponent and took a step toward confirming their ambitions in the tournament.
It is representative of how well the opener went for Italy that the debate for man of the match is a tough one been Pirlo and Balotelli. On one hand, Pirlo is the maestro of the Italian offense and every buildup is created through him. His free kick was a wonder, and he is constantly a threat. His experience showed in his decision-making.
On the other hand, Balotelli is responsible for opening up Pirlo. He was able to engage himself early with several shots, and this pulled the focus of the defense on him to liberate Pirlo's movement. Pirlo was able to move into the box behind the defense to cause what should have been a penalty.
This is all without mentioning the pure strength Balotelli showed in giving La Squadra Azzurra the winning goal. Finally, the striker drew great fouls in dangerous areas.
Alongside the superstars, the trio of Claudio Marchisio, Emanuele Giaccherini and Riccardo Montolivo were vital in forming the Italian attack. Italy relies on Balotelli to create individually while Pirlo methodically distributes to the trio who create space. The three brilliantly executed their roles and Italy had great pressure in the final third. An early Montolivo run created a Balotelli chance, and Giaccherini showed immense skill in barely missing a chance early on.
Where Italy wasn't quite perfect was, surprisingly in terms of history, their defense. Barzagli was the main culprit in a back line that made too many mistakes. He gave Mexico the penalty, and Chiellini's great stop on a Mexican counter stands out as the line's only great moment. Luckily, Italy can always rely on the experienced and extraordinary Gianluigi Buffon.
Against Japan, Italy will look to involve Balotelli again early and continue to be dangerous on dead balls. They will (hopefully) not have to deal with poor refereeing that cost them a penalty and an ideally placed free kick, so their dominance should pay its dividends if they continue on this path. Italy lacked in their final touch against Mexico, but they ultimately got the most of the back-and-forth.
It seems likely that Mexico needed some points today in order to advance, but they came out looking too shy to take any. Poor mistakes and execution combined with lack of creativity allowed for Italy to dominate and left Mexico with too few chances.
Mexico needs Giovani Dos Santos and Andres Guardado to create and find Chicharito inside the box in order to succeed. Dos Santos was very good in terms of aggressiveness today and flat out won that penalty for his country, but he didn't create sufficient space for his attack.
As for the other star, Chicharito, he showed good leadership in stepping up and finishing the penalty, but he was rather invisible for much of the game. One element of his game that stuck out was his incapacity to make the final pass. This begs the question, should Mexico try playing with two forwards ahead of Dos Santos with Chicharito in as a pure finisher?
The main source of disappointment for El Tri was the defense, and in particular captain Francisco Rodriguez. Rodriguez made several atrocious passes in the backfield, and Mexico left way too much space for the Italian offense to roam in.
If there was one positive note to be taken from the match though, it was the outstanding play of goalkeeper Jose Corona. Corona has been clutch for the national team for a while now, and he made several key saves against Italy to keep his team in it. Additionally, the Mexican team applied interesting pressure in the final third. It was making anything out of that pressure that was the problem.
Against Brazil, Mexico will have to gain more control of the ball if they want to maintain any hope of advancing. Mexico also demonstrated a similar problem to La Selecao in that they committed way too many dangerous fouls that gifted chances to their opponents. It came back to bite them.