Confederations Cup

Pirlo marks 100th cap with win

2013-06-17 11:09
Andrea Pirlo (AP Photo)
Rio de Janeiro - Andrea Pirlo at 34 marked his 100th cap with the first goal in Italy's 2-1 defeat of Mexico at the Confederations Cup on Sunday to earn the man-of-the-match award, while Mario Balotelli hit the winner 12 minutes from time, but showed at 22 he still has a fair bit to learn at an international tournament.

Balotelli promptly got himself booked for taking off his shirt in celebration - as he did after scoring in the Euro 2012 semi-final defeat of Germany when he stood and flexed his powerful muscles.

The AC Milan striker, who was substituted in the 86th minute to a warm ovation from the 73,123 crowd in the Maracana, later apologized by saying he had not realized a second tournament booking would lead to a suspension.

Not for the first time, Prandelli had to have a few quiet words with the wayward striker, who kept the lid on his emotions despite being floored several times by tackles from behind.

"We talked about this to Mario," Prandelli said of the player's bare-chested celebration. "We told him everyone has seen his muscles by now so he doesn't have to show his muscles any more by taking off his shirt."

Balotelli was sent off after two quick bookings in Italy's goalless draw against the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier just over a week ago.

The player furiously lashed out at anything within reach as he left the pitch in Prague as Prandelli urged him to sit calmly on the bench.

Prandelli was otherwise pleased with the impact of his striker, who had set his sights on goal early on with four shots in the first 12 minutes, before also earning the free-kick which led to Pirlo's glorious goal from 25 metres out to put Italy ahead.

"I noticed how concentrated and motivated he was," Prandelli said of Balotelli. "He was only slightly tense when we had a penalty case (turned down)," a reference to the player's minor tantrum when he threw his boot to the ground after it had come off under the challenge in the penalty area of Hector Moreno.

"He scored through strength and temperament," he said, describing the winner when Balotelli turned in the area and powerfully shrugged off the challenge of defender Francisco Rodriguez.

"The fans react to how a player plays, so I think Mario played really well tonight."

Balotelli will probably earn the headlines, but it was another astute performance by Juventus midfielder Pirlo, moving the ball around with his customary intelligence, which was a feature of the match. The veteran could hardly have scripted his 100th Italy match much better with his splendid 27th-minute goal in the Maracana.

"Andrea Pirlo is football for us," Prandelli said. "He is very down to earth, very normal, but he is always a fantastic player on the field so congratulations to him."

Now Italy come up on Wednesday against Japan, coached by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, who will, said Prandelli, prove a tricky customer for the Azzurri.

"He knows us very well, and if I know Alberto he is already preparing some traps for us," he said. "Japan are a good team and Alberto will also make it difficult for us."

Asian champions Japan cannot afford to lose after going down 3-0 in Brasilia Saturday to hosts and five-time world champions Brazil.

"We need to get our strength and energy back. Japan have had a small advantage over us because they have had an extra rest day," Prandelli said.

Mexico meanwhile must pick themselves up, with the task of beating hosts Brazil on Wednesday in Fortaleza or find themselves close to going out of the competition.

It was a first defeat this year for El Tri, but for a side that has only won one game and drawn eight of their 10 matches in 2013 that looks a difficult task.

Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said, however, he was encouraged by many aspects of his side's performance, saying the match was decided in the end by Italy's individual skills.

"It is in our hands to recover. The effort was very good, but there are some minor details which have to be corrected," he said.

Read more on:    mexico  |  italy  |  confed cup  |  soccer

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