Italy vs. Brazil: Key Battles to Watch in Confederations Cup
Italy vs. Brazil holds greater significance for the rest of the Confederations Cup. The winner is likely to take an easier route through the remainder of the competition and thus give themselves a better chance of claiming the prize.
Even so, plenty of monstrous battles need to be settled first. Which key encounters could decide the outcome of this match? Who will ignite an important victory with individual spark?
Read on to find out.
Energy vs. Control in the Midfield
Italy and Brazil's midfield selections couldn't be more different.
Cesare Prandelli continues to opt for control around the halfway line, with Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi deployed in the centre. Riccardo Montolivo floats between the midfield and forward line, interlinking play effectively and saving Pirlo from having to expend too much energy.
Unfortunately for Italy, De Rossi is suspended and Pirlo will miss the game through injury. Montolivo must now take control of the centre, possibly alongside Alberto Aquilani, Antonio Candreva or Alessio Cerci.
Due to the relentlessly attacking nature of Brazil's full-backs, Luiz Felipe Scolari is forced to ensure one of his midfield players remains no further forward than the centre spot. Luis Gustavo typically slots in ahead of the defence while Paulinho energetically bursts up the field, but how will this fare against top-quality opposition?
The likes of Oscar and Hulk will certainly need to help out defensively. Both teams are used to enjoying the majority of possession, but Brazil cannot get away with the gaps they left against Japan and Mexico. Montolivo will be used as Italy's central pivot, meaning the distance between Paulinho and Gustavo needs to be tightened.
Can Brazil's 'Full-Backs' Cope with Italy's Wide Men?
Calling Brazil's wide defenders "full-backs" is probably doing them a disservice.
These are wingers who know how to make a tackle. Both Dani Alves and Marcelo are not tested regularly enough in La Liga, and due to the strength of their club teammates, can get away with failing to carry out simple duties.
On the international stage, and even against opposition who haven't played particularly well, Brazil's full-backs invite unnecessary danger on the team. Marcelo struggled throughout the clash with Mexico and allowed pinpoint crosses to be delivered. Luckily for the Real Madrid star, David Luiz's barnstorming performance cut out any major problems.
The Italians play with two wide forwards supporting Mario Balotelli. Whether it's Emanuele Giaccherini, Sebastian Giovinco, Alberto Aquilani or Stephan El Shaarawy, the Europeans possess pace and precision on the flanks. If Alves and Marcelo are regularly caught up the pitch, Brazil will be punished.
Balotelli vs. Brazil's Centre-Backs
Or should that be Mario Balotelli vs. frustration?
Prandelli's decision to play the Milan forward as a lone striker is simultaneously inspired and dangerous. At his best, Balotelli is able to thrust Italy towards victory with powerful, energetic performances that see him take on huge responsibility. At his worst, the former Manchester City frontman becomes isolated and extremely volatile.
Small periods of frustration have arrived during Italy's matches against Mexico and Japan. Balotelli has been seen to angrily slap the ground, gesture to the referee and generally react to any slight annoyance. Prandelli's tactics allow the opposition to try to wind him up, although it appears that's exactly what the Italy boss wants.
Balotelli seems to play more effectively when he has a point to prove. Will he be able to keep his cool in tough exchanges with world-class opponents such as Thiago Silva and David Luiz?
Neymar vs. the World
Brazil's opening two games have been difficult to judge. Although the squad isn't playing consistently well as a unit, positive results continue to emerge in competitive play.
As a team, plenty of questions remain. Fortunately, the Confederations Cup hosts possess a match-winner in the form of Neymar. His electric pace, dribbling skills and ability to score tremendous goals have helped the Samba Boys see off Japan and Mexico, but the real test begins here.
If Neymar can inspire his team to victory over Italy, Brazil are likely to avoid Spain in the semifinals. Should the Barcelona man produce another moment of magic, the cheers he receives when in possession will only continue to intensify.
Which key battles are you looking out for during Italy vs. Brazil? Who will take the spoils? Let me know in the comments section below an be sure to follow me on Twitter right here: