Thursday 21 March 2013

Friendly could give vital clues to future for Italy and Brazil

Claudio Marchisio
If tonight’s friendly between Italy and Brazil in Geneva is technically a non-competitive international, no one told the players.
Headlines this week have screamed of the Azzurri’s deeply felt desire to get one over their South American foe while, for the Brazil, the match may be crucial for the team’s development.

Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio has described the fixture, which comes ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Malta next Tuesday as “a check of the highest levels”, while teammate Andrea Prilo added: “There are no such things as friendly matches in football, especially when Italy are involved and especially when the opponents are Brazil.”
But while the talk may be in the right place, the fixture’s history does not favour the Mediterranean country. Italy haven’t beaten Brazil since the 1982 World Cup and have lost three and drawn two of their last five games including 2-0 and 3-0 defeats in 2009. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon says: “We’ve faced Brazil on a few occasions in the last few years and we’ve done pretty poorly against them. Thursday’s match will be important, it will give us some important answers about the future, about our convictions.”
But if Buffon is looking for clues to the future, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has nabbed a crystal ball from Mystic Meg as he attempts to discern his best squad ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Scolari’s first match since returning as national team coach last month, more than a decade after triumphing in the competition in Japan and South Korea in 2002, ended in disappointment. A 2-1 loss to England at Wembley showed both the increasing importance of Jack Wilshere in the Three Lions’ team and the work there is still to be done to turn Brazil into contenders.
Thursday’s match will prove crucial in laying down a marker just months before they meet in the group stages of the Confederations Cup in the Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador. June’s competition should see both progress in a group alongside Japan and Mexico, but for Brazil winning a marquee match with a team ranked fifth in the Fifa rankings could be crucial.
With no competitive matches between now and the kick-off of South America’s first World Cup since 1986, Scolari will be looking to blend old heads with youth.
Thursday’s clash in the Stade De Geneve may provide Scolari with clues. There appears to be several key clashes. Barcelona’s full-back Dani Alves and Milan attacker Stephan El Shaarawy could provide one of the most fascinating tussles on the pitch as the forward looks to get past Alves as he did in the first of their clubs’ two Champions League clashes this month.
Similarly Marchisio and Chelsea’s Ramires – likely to deputise for the injured Paulinho – could provide a fascinating battle after facing off in Europe earlier this season. Ramires’ unerring ability to quickly accelerate when running from box-to-box will complement Marchisio’s deft skills in the centre of the park. However, it is the Brazilian who will have to prove his worth to his coach with Marchisio a regular in the Italian team.
In reality, the game could prove cagey with the Italians keen to nick a draw and shut out the slick passing of a Brazilian side with a point to prove to its 197 million population 5,000 miles away.
Moreover, the context of the game between two giants of world football who have clashed twice in World Cup competition, Brazil winning 4-1 in the 1970 final and Italy triumphing 3-2 thanks to an epic hat trick from Paolo Rossi in 1982. The pressure may be firmly on Brazil but when the match kicks off, both teams will be instilled with the flair of their forefathers.
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