Teams meet in Confederations Cup
16 June ~ The Confederations Cup is upon us again, helping to fill an otherwise thin footballing summer. The Maracanã impressed during its Brazil v England curtain raiser a fortnight ago. The stadium's reopening revealed a sleek modern venue, still retaining much of its old aura. Its next challenge comes on Sunday afternoon when it will host Mexico and Italy in the second match of the tournament.
Comprised predominantly of home-based players, the Mexican Concacaf-winning squad offers a first chance to impress on the senior international stage to up-and-coming talents such as Porto-bound defender Diego Reyes and forward Raúl Jiménez. However, for Mexico to have any chance, lone striker Javier Hernández will have to produce the form he showed only fleetingly for Manchester United this season.
While Mexico are the reigning world Under-17 and Olympic champions, the current senior side is not making the same sort of progress. Coach José Manuel de la Torre has the task of fitting the new generation into his side’s short passing game which, for all its attractiveness, has produced just three goals in Mexico’s past six World Cup qualifying matches – and if Panama's back line was too tough to get through in a recent 0-0 draw, breaking past Italy is unlikely to prove any easier.
Qualifying for the Confederations Cup due to their run to the Euro 2012 final, Italy remain reliant on a couple of unpredictables, namely Mario Balotelli and the ageing Andrea Pirlo. Coach Cesare Prandelli's team has evolved from one built around established World Cup-winners to a side that moves the ball forward quickly and can change formation from match to match, a tactic that has produced good results against lesser opponents but will face a stiffer challenge if Italy can navigate past the group stage here.
The defence is largely lifted from the Juventus team that has dominated Serie A over the last two seasons. Further forward the midfield is best characterised by Emanuele Giaccherini, who executes the pressing game preferred by Prandelli expertly but is less able on the ball than many of his predecessors, further intensifying the creative pressure on Pirlo lying deeper. More of the dynamism is expected to come from the forwards with Stephan El Shaarawy having grown into a fine player, forging a strong understanding with AC Milan teammate Balotelli since the latter's arrival in January. But Italian fortunes are above all likely to depend on Mario's mood. Iain Pearce