Daniele de Rossi sparked Italy’s fightback and Mario Balotelli scored a superb second-half equalizer as the Azzurri battled to a 2-2 draw against Brazil in an international friendly on Thursday.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side, hosts of next year’s World Cup, came into the 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 goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
“I saw a lot [of] 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 defense,” Scolari said.
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 further point adrift.
The Azzurri face Group B opponents Malta on Tuesday, while Brazil face Russia in a friendly on Monday in London.
“We played a good match against a team which has the potential to be great,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “We were 2-0 down at halftime, 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, 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 AS 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 toward the back post, where Fred, unmarked, beat Gianluigi Buffon with a coolly-taken volley after 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 layoff 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.
Balotelli’s leveler three minutes later was a fine effort, the striker charging toward the edge of the penalty area, before unleashing a superb drive which looped over Cesar and into the top corner.