Brazil versus Italy got off on an electrifying note with more of World Cup 94 rather than 82 on the book, Brazil were the first to mount a purposeful attack as Italy rued the absence of their ever-present midfield without Andrea Pirlo.
Bayern Munich defender Dante slammed a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Gigi Buffon in first-half injury time, but Italy equalized through Emmanuele Giaccherini’s swift breakaway in the 51st.
Neymar scored his third goal of the tournament in the 55th with a lovely free-kick, and Fred added to the lead from inside the area in the 66th before Italy pulled closer again with a Giorgio Chiellini goal in the 71st. Fred sealed victory from a Buffon parry in the 89th to have the hosts finish Group B’s first round of matches with a 9-point lead.
“Brazil is ready for the semi-final,” coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “We’ve made it with a team with good technical quality and with a lot of confidence.”
Neymar was the man to watch and Oscar played him in on the 24 minute, flicking around the corner to unlock the Italian defence but, this time the Brazil boy wonder shot wide. David Luis got himself an early booking for a stupid foul on Mario Balotelli and was later substituted for Dante, Riccardo Montolivo and Ignazio Abate also made way for Giaccherini and Christian Maggio as Cesare Prandelli made two early changes a minute after the half hour mark.
A couple of tremendous skillfulness from the Brazilians unexpectedly made sense when Neymar kicked in a great free-kick in first-half injury time, Fred lost his man to flick in a header which Buffon cleared from goal, but only into the path of substitute Dante- and the Bayern man slams in with his left leg.
Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov signaled the end to the first-half, which witnessed more of possession game.
Soon as the second-half had begun an Oscar straight shot at goal was never a problem for Buffon, but substitute Giaccherini smashed in the ball across Julio Cesare’s goal and into the corner from a Mario Balotelli’s lovely backheel to draw level for the Italians.
Barcelona’s new export, Neymar, produced a brilliant effort from a free-kick four minutes from the equalizer to justify his no 10 jersey. He whipped the ball over the wall and right into the top corner, beating Buffon for space.
“Neymar can be decisive and that’s what happened with the free-kick,” Scolari said after the match. “He had many good quality opportunities but the key thing was taking a step to the side. Only those geniuses who have a notion of what is happening in a match can do that.”
Fred struggled under all sorts of pressure from Chiellini on controlling with his chest a Marcelo pull-out, but out-muscled the defender and smashed into the roof of the net with his left foot.
Brazil was furious with the referee, who appeared to blow for an Italy penalty but changed his mind and passed Chiellini’s close shot for a goal. Balotelli thumped his free-kick into the wall out for a corner ten minutes before full-time and with seven minutes left spins another past the front post.
Fred wrapped up a scintillating performance from the host in the 88th minute, Marcelo fizzled in a low shot which Buffon, who’s not had a great tournament so far, can only parry back out, and former Manchester City forward arrived to slot the loose ball home.
With the match down to the injury time, every opportunity for Fred to bag a hat-trick landed him in the offside trap before the referee signaled an end to a frantic second half. Pending the outcome of the Nigeria-Spain match, Brazil will look to avoid Spain before the final.
“Matches like these make you grow and if we face Spain we’ll try to play our game,” Scolari added.