GENEVA (Reuters) - Italy striker Mario Balotelli left his Brazil counterpart Neymar in the shadows as he capped an inspiring performance with a majestic goal in a 2-2 international friendly draw on Thursday.
Balotelli curled an unstoppable shot past Julio Cesar as Italy recovered from 2-0 down at halftime to deny Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari his first win since being reappointed for a second stint in November.
Neymar, 21, billed as Brazil’s great hope for the future, cleverly set up their second goal for Oscar but was not in the same class as the mercurial Balotelli.
Brazil, showing signs of a more physical approach under their 2002 World Cup-winning coach Scolari, produced flashes of flair and lots of bruising tackles as they improved on their display in last month’s 2-1 defeat by England at Wembley.
Brazil remain unbeaten against Italy since their infamous 3-2 loss at the 1982 World Cup but will be more worried about whether they can build a title-winning team in time for the 2014 tournament which they host.
Scolari saw improvements from the England performance after an end-to-end match between two teams committed to attack.
“I think we have definitely progressed. I liked the way the team performed. We didn’t get desperate when they equalised and I thought they (Brazil’s players) did very well.”
Brazil are languishing in 18th place in the FIFA rankings but Scolari’s opposite number, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, also saw the possibilities in Brazil’s developing side.
“I‘m convinced they are a strong team with great potential,” he said. “We don’t really know how we ended up 2-0 behind but we didn’t lose our balance and we kept our heads. Our young players showed great calm.”
Italy were dominant for the opening half-hour with 22-year-old Balotelli playing a leading role.
The maverick striker had one effort stopped by Julio Cesar, another deflected wide by David Luiz and also provided a cross which Pablo Osvaldo headed wide.
Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s deep-lying playmaker, was as elegant as ever, floating one ball over the Brazil defence for Christian Maggio whose effort was blocked by Julio Cesar.
Pirlo curled another effort wide and Balotelli had a rocket shot palmed away by Julio Cesar who also managed to turn aside a flicked effort by Pablo Osvaldo.
Brazil were clearly being outplayed but still found themselves two goals ahead by halftime.
Fred opening the scoring in the 33rd minute when Filipe Luis’s cross found him at the far post and he side-footed first time past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Ten minutes later, Neymar split the Italian defence with a reverse pass and Oscar flicked the ball past Buffon.
Pirlo was substituted at halftime, yet Italy quickly found themselves level.
Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi pulled a goal back in the 53rd minute when the Brazil defence failed to clear a corner and he cleverly flicked the ball in from near the penalty area with the outside of his foot.
Balotelli produced his masterstroke three minutes later to raise the roof at the Stade de Geneve and twice came close to a winner but was denied by Julio Cesar both times.
Brazil brought 2007 World Player of the Year Kaka on for the last 20 minutes but he struggled to make an impact. (Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)