World Cup - Balotelli scores stunner as Italy hold Brazil

International friendly, Stade de Geneve - Italy 2 (De Rossi 54, Balotelli 57) Brazil 2 (Fred 33, Oscar 42)

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Mario Balotelli (R) celebrates scoring a goal with team mate Daniele De Rossi during their international friendly soccer match against Brazil (Reuters)

A vintage international friendly saw Italy and Brazil share a 2-2 draw in front of a Geneva crowd that was treated to goals of the highest quality.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil enjoyed a two-goal lead at half-time thanks to a fine volley from Fred at the far post and then an accomplished finish from Chelsea's Oscar after he was teed up by a stunning run and pass from Neymar.

But Italy produced an emphatic response, Daniele De Rossi scoring with an aerial backheel and Mario Balotelli converting a stunning effort from 25 yards as the Azzurri fought their way back into the game in stylish fashion.

Boasting nine World Cup trophies between them, a match contested by two of international football's grandest teams started in entertaining fashion and with an intensity that often eludes friendlies, especially ones played on neutral turf.

Emanuele Giaccherini had the first clear chance of the game when he cut in from the left and ghosted past Bayern Munich's Dante to fire in a wicked shot that Julio Cesar turned round the post with an outstretched arm. The QPR keeper had to be alert again when Balotelli ran onto a long ball over the top and took his shot early, pinging in a low effort that went wide via the keeper's heel.

Balotelli, with seven goals in six Serie A appearances since a move to AC Milan in January, looked full of intent and went close with two further efforts, one ferocious shot being tipped round the bar and a more considered curling finish deflected wide of the post.

Cesare Prandelli's Italy looked composed at the back and the more fluent in attack, but on 33 minutes Brazil punished them for a temporary lapse. Filipe Luis delivered a cross from the left and Leonardo Bonucci inadvertently flicked the ball to the back post for Fred, who had lost Mattia De Sciglio to thump a volley past Gianluigi Buffon.

Neymar, who had previously been restricted to a firm effort from just inside the box, then left his mark on the game in some style. The Santos superstar embarked on a surging run from his own half and waited for Andrea Pirlo to approach before slipping in Oscar with a reverse pass. The Chelsea playmaker's finish was gorgeous as he put Buffon on his bum with a flicked finish into the bottom corner.

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But if Brazil had surprisingly taken charge at the end of the first half, Italy wrestled back momentum at the start of the second in quite spectacular fashion.

After Stephan El Shaarawy, on as one of two half-time substitutions for Italy, won a corner after 54 minutes with a shot from a tight angle, De Rossi pulled one back for Italy with a superb moment of improvisation. After the ball bounced up for the Roma star with his back to goal, he pulled back his leg to flick the ball home with his heel in a moment that gently recalled Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goal against Italy at Euro 2004.

If De Rossi's goal was intelligent, Balotelli's three minutes later was simply electric. Collecting the ball 25 yards out, the striker bent in a sensational effort that flew over the gloves of Cesar and dipped under the bar for 2-2.

An enthralling contest continued to produce chance after chance, with Neymar threatening with a curling free-kick and Balotelli being denied by a smart save from Cesar and then a quite brilliant block from Dante as he fired in two firm efforts from inside the box.

Neither Italy nor Brazil could carve out a winner, but a night at Stade de Geneve which should go some way to restoring the reputation of the international friendly was deeply memorable nonetheless.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Mario Balotelli (Italy): The AC Milan star netted a brilliant goal but was a menace throughout for the Azzurri with a succession of shots and a few dangerous crosses too.

PLAYER RATINGS

ITALY: Buffon 6, Maggio 7, Barzagli 7, Bonucci 6, De Sciglio 6, Pirlo 8, De Rossi 8, Montolivo 6, Giaccherini 6, Osvaldo 6, Balotelli 8. Subs: El Shaarawy 7, Cerci 7, Poli 6, Antonelli 6, Diamanti 5, Gilardino 6.

BRAZIL: Cesar 8, Alves 5, Luiz 7, Dante 7, Filipe 7, Fernando 6, Hernanes 7, Hulk 6, Oscar 8, Neymar 7, Fred 7. Subs: Kaka 6, Diego Costa 6, Marcelo 6, Jean 6, Luiz Gustavo N/A.

MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS

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