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Balotelli stunner pegs Brazil back

BALOTELLI-STRIKEGENEVA, Switzerland, March 21 – Daniele De Rossi sparked Italy’s fightback and Mario Balotelli scored a superb second-half equaliser as the Azzurri battled to a 2-2 draw against Brazil in a friendly on Thursday.

Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side, hosts of the 2014 World Cup, came into this match looking for a win following a 2-1 loss to England last month.

Any doubts Scolari may have had about Brazil on their travels evaporated by the interval after Fred and then Chelsea attacking midfielder Oscar scored one apiece to give Brazil a 2-0 lead.

Italy turned the tables after the break with De Rossi reducing the arrears in the 54th minute, and Balotelli pulling his side level only three minutes later with a fine, curling effort which beat Queens Park Rangers ‘keeper Julio Cesar.

“I saw a lot positive things,” said Scolari, who is still looking for the first win of his second spell in charge of Brazil.

He also had kind words for Santos striker Neymar after recent criticism.

“Tactically, Neymar played well, probably his best match for Brazil. We had him as a second striker and he made life difficult for Italy’s defence.”

While Brazil do not participate in qualifying for the World Cup, Italy sit top of Group B on 10 points, four ahead of second-placed Bulgaria with the Czech Republic in third a point further adrift.

The Azzurri face Group B opponents Malta on Tuesday while Brazil face Russia in a friendly on Monday in London.

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“We played a good match against a team which has the potential to be great,” said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.

“We were 2-0 down at half-time, we don’t quite know how, but the important thing is we didn’t lose our composure and we always looked to score.”

While Scolari opted for a formidable three-man attack in Fred, Neymar and Hulk, with Ronaldinho left at home for this trip, Cesare Prandelli’s pre-match plans were upset when Claudio Marchisio pulled out late through illness.

AC Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo stepped in, with Juventus’s Emanuele Giaccherini the link man for Balotelli and Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo up front in a 4-3-1-2 formation which Italy tweaked after the interval.

Italy started brightly with both Giaccherini and Balotelli forcing early saves from Cesar, and then Osvaldo coming even closer when he headed over from Balotelli’s cross on the left.

Those missed chances proved costly when defender Andrea Barzagli headed a cross from the left towards the back post where Fred, unmarked, beat Gianluigi Buffon with a coolly-taken volley on 33 minutes.

Andrea Pirlo, with a curling effort that went just past Cesar’s far post, and Balotelli again spurned chances and Italy were made to pay when Oscar slipped the ball past Buffon with the outside of his right boot after a calm lay-off by the impressive Neymar.

Prandelli tweaked Italy’s formation after the break, with Stephan El Shaarawy replacing Osvaldo and Alessio Cerci making his debut replacing Pirlo.

De Rossi sparked the fightback, the Roma midfielder poking home from close range after the ball fell kindly following a corner.

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Balotelli’s leveller three minutes later was a fine effort, the striker charging towards the edge of the area before unleashing a superb drive which looped over Cesar and into the top corner.

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