Brazil vs. Italy: Neymar vs. Balotelli Will Steal Show at Confederations Cup
Brazil and Italy will square off at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, with the top spot in Group A on the line. However, it's the individual matchup of Neymar and Mario Balotelli that will end up stealing the show by match's end.
Which side will win Group A?
Both the Azzurri and the Verde-Amarela are without loss so far at the Confederations Cup, each with wins over Japan and Mexico in Group A play.
Since Brazil has not been scored upon in two matches and Italy has given up four in the same span, the Azzurri will need an outright win to secure the top spot in Group A. A win or a draw for the Brazilian side will do the same thing.
While the action on the pitch will involve a number of talented players from each side—including Oscar, Fred and Thiago Silva from Brazil and Andrea Pirlo (out due to injury), Ignazio Abate and others from Italy—there's only one player-versus-player duel you should be interested in on Saturday in Brazil.
It's Neymar versus Balotelli.
The two strikers are two of the hottest names in football right now, and both are just out of their teens. Balotelli is a 22-year-old who spent time with Manchester United before joining his current A.C. Milan side. Meanwhile, Neymar is 21 and will be joining Lionel Messi at Barcelona next year.
Both players are on the rise and, in a way, could wind up being the future of the sport in the next five years or so.
As you can see from this tweet from Live Football, all the attention is focused on the pair for the showdown in Group A on Saturday:
Each has been key so far in scoring goals for his squad, and both have two goals through two games (via ESPNFC.com). They would probably be higher on the scoring table, but so far, three players (Fernando Torres, David Villa and Nnamdi Oduamadi) all have higher totals coming against the outmatched Tahiti earlier in the draw.
Neymar was one of the players to watch for Brazil far before this now-dream matchup was ever taking shape. Since he's joining a Barca side that totaled 100 points in La Liga action last year, expectations to provide strong scoring support and to play well in hostile environments will be part of the job description.
He's handled the pressure beautifully so far.
Neymar opened up the scoring for Brazil against Japan earlier in the tournament, bending a ferocious strike to the top right corner of the net against the Blue Samurai.
The goal gave Brazil the spark it needed to add two more.
Neymar was involved in both of his side's goals against Mexico too. The 21-year-old scored one to continue the nightmare that is El Tri football right now and then had an insane assist to cap the scoring in the 2-0 victory.
Seriously, if you haven't seen it, it's the kind of play that justifies whatever kind of salary and publicity he's going to get alongside Messi during his first season of La Liga play.
Balotelli has been equally impressive for Italy, with both of his goals coming in must-see fashion. His first, against Mexico, came with the score knotted at one; he bullied his way in front of the defender and slid one past the keeper for the game-winning strike.
His second, against Japan, was of the penalty-kick fashion. He paused late on his approach and fooled the net-minder just enough to spin the ball in with ease and give Italy a 3-2 lead in the second half. The Azzurri would go on to win 4-3, but Balotelli has proven he's as clutch as they come these days in the second half.
As you watch both of these sides square off on Saturday, it will be interesting to note both the similarities and the differences that make these young starlets great.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli reportedly doesn't see many, according to Goal.com's Enis Koylu.
"I don’t see any big differences between Neymar and Mario Balotelli. It would be interesting to see them together," he said.
There have been some stellar displays of talent in specific games so far in the Confederations Cup. Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani rival any trio at the event when they all take the pitch simultaneously, and Spain's entire side is full of experience and success.
But you won't find another match at the Confederations Cup that combines the idea of future stars shining early with a chance to win one of the most prestigious events that FIFA has to offer internationally.
Additionally, this is another noted proving ground for the upcoming World Cup.
Italy and Brazil are both through to the knockout stage no matter what happens on the pitch on Saturday afternoon. Heck, we might get a double-dip of this showdown later, depending on what happens with the next round of games.
Regardless, make sure you are checking out Brazil and Italy with much intrigue. Japan and Mexico also square off on Saturday, but there won't be any matchup of this magnitude on TV anywhere else to start your weekend of football off right.
Follow Bleacher Report FC Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.
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