Italy looks to show newfound swagger in Brazil friendly
Italy hasn't beaten Brazil since a memorable victory en route to the 1982 World Cup title and will be looking to show off its newfound swagger in Thursday's friendly after last year's run to the European Championship final.
Brazil hasn't beaten anyone of note lately and is looking to regain its confidence under Luiz Felipe Scolari, who guided the Selecao to the 2002 World Cup title and was brought back in November to replace Mano Menezes.
So it will be a friendly in name only when the two squads that share nine World Cup titles between them - five for Brazil, four for Italy - meet in Geneva.
It will also be a preview of their next meeting in June in the group phase of the Confederations Cup.
"Friendlies don't exist with the national team,'' Italy's midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo said. "We know they're a great team but so are we.''
Since Italy's 3-2 win in 1982, Brazil has won four times in the series and drawn once. In their last two meetings, Brazil has outscored Italy 5-0.
"Over the last few years we haven't faced Brazil many times, but the few times we have met we've played fairly poorly,'' Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon said. "So this is a big test for us to see where we're at and it will help us either way, whether it goes well or poorly.''
Brazil lost 2-1 to England at Wembley last month in Scolari's return and drew 1-1 with Colombia in its previous match in November.
Scolari had only directed two days of training before the England match and he should have a better grip on the squad by now, with another friendly coming up against Russia next week in London.
"Since the 2010 World Cup, Brazil has not won any matches against major national squads,'' goalkeeper Julio Cesar said. "I expect to win both games.''
Scolari could use a three-pronged attack featuring Neymar, Fred and Hulk, while Real Madrid playmaker Kaka could be an option off the bench. However, there are problems in midfield with Ramires, Lucas and Paulinho all out injured.
Italy is without defender Giorgio Chiellini, who was sent home Wednesday with injuries to both ankles, but coach Cesare Prandelli has a wealth of options for his lineup, keeping in mind a World Cup qualifier at Malta next week.
With Roma forward Pablo Osvaldo suspended for the Malta match, the Argentine-born striker could pair in attack with Mario Balotelli, who has scored seven goals in six matches for AC Milan since transferring back to Italy from Manchester City.
"Mario has found the ideal situation to show his worth,'' Buffon said. "I hope he gives us joy with the national team, too.''
Whoever plays in attack for Italy will have to deal with defender Thiago Silva, widely considered among the world's best.
Silva developed his game with Milan the past three seasons before transferring to Paris Saint-Germain.
"I owe a lot to Italy,'' he said. "I grew up in Italy and learned to defend better.''
While Italy is unbeaten in World Cup qualifying, the Azzurri have not fared well in recent friendlies, losing 2-1 at home to France in November and drawing 1-1 at the Netherlands last month.
"We're approaching these two matches like they're both qualifiers,'' Prandelli said. "Perhaps the Malta match is more important because there will be three points on line but Brazil is Brazil and the name says it all.''
Brazil, which is hosting the 2014 World Cup, does not have to qualify and is therefore playing a long series of friendlies.