Italy lie second in Group A after they claimed all three points in the iconic Maracanã stadium. Balotelli scored the winning goal for the Azzurri with 12 minutes to go, after Hernandez scored from the spot to cancel out Pirlo’s majestic free kick.
The first action in Rio Di Janeiro came within five minutes, when the Mexico center-back tried to lob the ball across the defensive line over Balotelli, but instead played it straight to the Italian’s feet. Mario took a couple of paces and then tried to lift it over Corona, only for it to sail over the bar. Perhaps the striker should have driven at the keeper and finished it from a one-on-one. Giovani Dos Santos started the game brightly, and just after the 10-minute mark, he did well and showed impressive strength to keep the ball before cutting it back for Guardado, who shook the crossbar with his left peg.
Around the 15 minute mark, Mexico were released on the counter-attack and Italy had to commit two fouls to stop La Verde. The subsequent free-kick was given away and Italy broke away to attack Mexico; Pirlo received the ball in the penalty area, a crowd of green shirts surrounded him, and Guardado took him down. It looked like a stonewall penalty. The replays, however, showed that the ball was won, and the referee couldn’t possibly have seen it but somehow he’d made the right call. Both teams showed a lot of eagerness to counter-attack the opposition in this manner in the first half.
Around the 27th minute, Italy passed the ball around patiently, and it found it’s way to Balotelli about 30 yards out. He took a poor touch, three Mexico players came in and took Mario down illegally. After a bit of debate between Balotelli and Pirlo, Pirlo stepped up. It went over the wall and dipped under the crossbar passed the helpless Cornona. Question marks could be raised about the goalkeeper pulling his hands away, but no keeper should be expected to save one of those masterpieces.
Seven minutes later, Dos Santos stole the ball off of Barzagli and the center-half proceeded to trip Dos Santos up. Not a shadow of a doubt that it was a penalty, the question though was whether it should have been a red card, but Barzagli was only shown yellow.
The rules state that it should be red only if it stops a “clear goal-scoring opportunity.” Dos Santos could have scored but Buffon was fast closing in on him and it’s down to referee discretion to decide whether it’s a clear opportunity. My opinion is that it should have been a red card, but it’s not as clear-cut as John Hartson was making it out to be. After deliberation between Dos Santos and Hernandez, Hernandez placed the ball down and fired it into the net. Corona made a good save to stop Abate from the probing cross of Pirlo. This was a continuing theme throughout the match and the goalkeeper was Mexico’s man of the match for me.
On the 52th minute, Italy had another free kick, and up stepped the magician once again. Pirlo failed to lift the ball over the wall, however, it trickled through and Chiellini got a rushed shot away, only for Corona to save. Around the hour mark, Mexico attacked Italy through the center; Guardado ran into the back of Chiellini and down went the Mexican.
Much to his dismay, no free kick was given, if it had been a red card may ensued. It’s unclear whether Chiellini purposefully blocked him off or if he simply ran into the big defender. Buffon collected the ball and Italy raced away to the other end of the pitch. The ball was played over the Mexican defense, Balotelli turned and raced past them, only to be pulled down by Moreno. It was a definite foul and red card but, to the disbelief of Balotelli, nothing was given.
The first half saw Balotelli dropping deep, no defender and the forward was allowed a lot of space, this was changed in the second half when Rodriguez was told to follow Mario. He was often caught too tight, though, and Balotelli turned the Mexican captain. This was shown on 58 minutes when Rodriguez haled Mario down after Balotelli turned him, no yellow card was brandished although it should have been. This was a sign of things to come and, on the 78th minute, De Rossi chipped the ball to Giaccherini, who flicked it over his head to Balotelli, he rolled Rodriguez and stoked the ball into the bottom corner.
The result means that Mexico will likely have to defeat the hosts, Brazil, on Wednesday to have a chance of qualifying, whereas Italy will have at least one foot in the next round if they can beat Japan.