Fred and Oscar put Luiz Felipe Scolari's side in the driving seat, but Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli completed a remarkable second half comeback in Geneva. Italy still haven't beaten Brazil for 30 years, but will get another chance in three months time, when the two sides meet in the Confederations Cup.
Both managers experimented with 4-3-3 formations. Emanuele Giaccherini supported Pablo Osvaldo and Mario Balotelli, while Hulk, Neymar and Fred formed the Brazilian trident. Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Silva were late withdrawals through illness and injury, so Riccardo Montolivo and Dante came in.
Both goalkeepers were called into action early on. Gianluigi Buffon repelled Neymar, while Julio Cesar blocked a Balotelli effort with his legs.
Fernando fired a warning from long range, as his free kick bent wide of the post at the last second. Midway through the first half, Andrea Pirlo picked out Christian Maggio with a long ball on the overlap. The Napoli full-back continued his run into the box, only to be thwarted by Cesar, who ran out to block.
Italy appeared to be in the ascendency, but Brazil hit them with the first of two sucker punches on 33 minutes, when Filipe Luis's cross wasn't fully cleared by Leonardo Bonucci. The Juventus man headed the ball into the path of a grateful Fred, who fired a crisp volley past Buffon at the near post from four yards. It was the third consecutive international game that Fred has opened the scoring in.
The Italians came back at their opponents. Cesar managed to parry a fierce Balotelli strike to safety, before a series of intricate passes led to Pirlo curling his effort just wide of the far post. Neymar threaded through for Hernanes, but Mattia De Sciglio muscled the Lazio man off the ball before he could pull the trigger.
Neymar's next contribution proved decisive as Brazil netted a second three minutes before the break. The Santos forward cleverly disguised his run away from goal and his reverse pass unlocked Oscar, who slotted the ball past Buffon at the near post.
On the stroke of half time, Pablo Osvaldo got a touch to Maggio's long run and pass, but a scrambling Cesar was able to get a decisive touch to guide the ball wide.
Following a few choice words at the break and a couple of substitutions, Cesare Prandelli's side turned the game on its head in 12 second half minutes. Stephan El Shaarawy did well to force a corner off Cesar after being played in by Balotelli. From the substitute's delivery, De Rossi stuck out a boot, beating Dante to the ball and wrong footing Cesar to reduce the arrears. Three minutes later, Balotelli hit a 30 yard screamer which zipped past Cesar and nestled in the top corner.
Both sides went for the jugular. Hulk was played onside, but stood on the ball and effectively left it behind. Fred then saw an effort trickle past the the post. At the other end, a lucky ricochet led to the ball falling at Balotelli's feet. Cesar pulled off a point blank save to stop Super Mario adding to his tally. On 68 minutes, Bonucci got his head to a corner and flashed an effort across the face of goal.
Balotelli almost came to blows with Hernanes after taking exception to a late challenge. The Brazilian had already been booked and was lucky not to be dismissed. On 76 minutes, a last ditch Dante challenge denied Balotelli once again. The forward received the ball in an inviting position from Alessio Cerci, but Dante managed to deflect the ball to safety.
An accidental clash with Buffon put paid to De Rossi's evening. The AS Roma midfielder left the field with heavy strapping applied to his leg. In the final minutes, Cerci brought down a corner and fired over, El Shaarawy's bursting run and shot shaded the post, while Neymar struck a disappointing free kick into the Italian wall. Alessandro Diamanti ballooned a final free kick into Row Z, as both teams had to settle for a draw.
Italy: Buffon; Maggio, Bonucci, Barzagli, De Sciglio; (Antonelli 74) De Rossi, (Diamanti 81) Pirlo, (Cerci 46) Montolivo; Giaccherini; (Poli 68) Balotelli, (Gilardino 83) Osvaldo (El Shaarawy 46)
Goals: Fred 33 (B) Oscar 42 (B) De Rossi 54 (I) Balotelli 57 (I)