Brazil defeated Italy on Saturday, 4-2, to win Group A and earn a more favorable matchup in the semifinals of the 2013 Confederations Cup.
A poor first half was mostly marked by cynical defending and injuries as several players were withdrawn early. Apart from Hulk testing Gianluigi Buffon early on, there were few chances for either side.
Riccardo Montolivo was added to Italy's midfield absences when he was withdrawn early on for Emanuele Giaccherini. Later, Ignazio Abate suffered a retaliatory foul from Neymar, who showed his nasty streak to put the AC Milan right-back over, dislocating his shoulder in the process. Christian Maggio replaced him, but Brazil soon had injury problems of their own, as they were forced to replace David Luiz with Dante.
It was to be an eventful game for the Bayern Munich centre-back — as the half drew to a thankful close, Dante put his side into the lead when Buffon parried Fred's header into his path, and the defender reacted smartly to put the rebound away and give Brazil a barely deserved lead in an awful first half.
In the second half, however, all hell broke loose. Just six minutes into the half, a long ball forward was flicked on by a clever backheel by Mario Balotelli to find Emanuele Giaccherini breaking into the right channel. The Juventus winger took advantage of some indecisive positioning from Thiago Silva, who neglected to close him down, and lashed a fine finish across Julio Cesar and into the far corner of the net.
Brazil weren't happy, though, and they wasted no time in retaking their lead. A few minutes later, getting a free-kick in a good position outside the Italian area, Neymar stepped up to curl a fantastic shot into the far corner which deceived Gianluigi Buffon. It made the score 2-1 in a game that was increasingly breathless.
Italy swarmed forward in search of an equaliser, and they could have had a fine opportunity to gain it. Balotelli's strength was being put to good use for his hold-up play, to which Dante reacted by hauling the A.C. Milan striker down in the area. The referee, however, waved play on, much to the consternation of the Italians.
It was about to get worse, too — Brazil managed to get another goal to potentially kill off the game, courtesy of some classic centre-forward play from Fred. Marcelo's long-ball was expertly controlled by the striker as he muscled away from Giorgio Chiellini to blast the ball past Buffon from close range and double his side's lead.
Yet in a brilliant second half, Brazil's two-goal lead wouldn't last long. Italy continued to cause problems as they drove forward with intent, and a dangerous corner left the Brazil defence all at sea. That gave Chiellini time to receive the ball unmarked and sweep it into the corner with his right foot. The goal caused some controversy, as the referee had blown his whistle as the ball crossed the line, but it was for a foul on Balotelli, so the goal stood.
Italy were looking confident, and continued to attack. As Mario Balotelli's free-kick went out for a corner, the delivery found Maggio in the area, who smashed a header off the crossbar amidst a nervy Brazil defence. Soon after, Balotelli blazed another effort just wide as an Italy equaliser looked increasingly likely.
In the end though, Brazil managed to break out and seal the victory — Marcelo and Bernard embarked on some fine play down the left before the former sent in a spinning shot at Buffon, which was parried out into the danger zone once again on a rare off-day for the legendary goalkeeper. His defence hadn't helped him, which had allowed Fred to breach their lines and could only watch as he got to the ball to slide it past the prone Buffon and finally wrap up the victory.