Italy and Brazil have both punched their tickets to the knockout stage of the 2013 Confederations Cup. A lot remains on the line heading into their Group A clash, however, as the top team in the group likely gets to avoid Spain in the semifinals.
Brazil, the host nation for the tournament and next year's World Cup, has looked nothing like the 22nd-ranked team in the world. The Selecao, led by Neymar, have won their first two matches by a combined score of 5-0. Italy will be their biggest test of the round, though.
The Azzurri also defeated Mexico and Japan to ensure progression to the next stage. The veteran group looked shaky defensively against Japan in the last match. They will need to rectify that problem quickly if they want to beat Brazil for the top spot in the group.
So even though it's not a do-or-die match for either side, both should feature their strongest lineup with hopes of missing the dominant Spanish squad until a potential final. Here's a look at all the viewing information for the match, followed by a preview and prediction.
Where: Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil
When: Saturday, June 22 at 3 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Italy Player to Watch: Mario Balotelli
Balotelli is once again putting his talent on full display. He's scored in each of the first two matches, including the game-winning strike in Italy's opener. When he's completely focused on football, the AC Milan striker is a dynamic offensive threat.
Of course, some of his antics over the years have prevented him from reaching his full potential. At 22, perhaps he's finally starting to mature. After picking up a yellow against Mexico, he avoided trouble against Japan to ensure he would be available for Brazil—a small sign of progress.
Given Brazil's strong play on the attack so far and Italy's defensive struggles in its last match, the Azzurri will likely need a strong offensive effort of their own to earn three points. The only way that happens is if Balotelli leads the charge.
Brazil Player to Watch: Jo
Since Neymar is stealing the headlines, it's easy to overlook Jo's contributions. The striker, serving in a super-sub role for the talented Brazilian side, has scored his first two international goals. He came off the bench late in each of the first two matches and scored.
Having a player of that caliber in top form is a major asset for the Selecao. The matches are only going to get tougher from here, especially if a matchup with Spain develops, and having a player who can provide an instant spark is huge.
With Fred and Hulk both struggling to make an impact, some consideration may be given to getting Jo in the starting lineup. But given the success he's had off the bench, keeping him in that role and hoping he can continue to be a factor is probably the best move.
Matchup to Watch: Azzurri back line vs. Neymar
Italy is usually known for executing strong defensive game plans. That certainly wasn't the case against Japan. The Azzurri gave up two goals in the first 33 minutes, and after taking a 3-2 lead, gave up another before finally securing a 4-3 win.
A similar showing from the back line against Brazil won't end as well. Neymar has scored within the first 10 minutes in each of Brazil's matches so far. And those goals were high-quality finishes, showing he deserves the massive amount of attention.
Starting against Italy, the 21-year-old superstar can expect to face a lot more defensive pressure as the top teams attempt to limit his space. How he responds will determine if Brazil wins Group A and how much success it has in the knockout rounds.
Brazil 2, Italy 1
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