Estadio do Maracanã

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  • Javier Hernández 34' PEN

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  • Andrea Pirlo 27'
  • Mario Balotelli 78'

Mexico v Italy: Preview

John Brewin
Jose Manuel de la Torre has found wins hard to come by in World Cup qualifying.

The Estadio do Maracana, refurbishment still in progress, stages its first tournament match as the preparations for hosting the 2014 World Cup final move on to the next stage.

Mexico won this "Festival of Champions" competition in 1999, when it was staged in their country. They are more used to playing in South America than their opponent Sunday, having often been an invited guest of the Copa America. They are also more regular participants in the Confederations Cup itself, though Italy played in the 2009 version as World Cup holders, only to exit after a group stage that included a defeat to Egypt.

What's on the line?

Mexico, the dominant force in the CONCACAF region, with Olympic gold to their name, are hoping that their push to go beyond their usual World Cup exit point of the last 16 can continue. There are, however, distractions. Their performance in the qualifying Hexagonal for next year has been distinctly worrying. They may be unbeaten but have drawn five matches and won just one. They are third and in the automatic qualifying places but have played a game more than their rivals.

Italy were cordially invited to Brazil this year by virtue of their coming second at Euro 2012. Spain's winning of both world and European titles opened up a spare place, and the Azzurri are in Brazil to augment preparations for a World Cup finals they are almost guaranteed to be present at. There was little disgrace in their final defeat to the Spanish in Kiev, Ukraine, last year since they were playing a truly great team at the apex of its powers. Now to augment the learnings from that tournament of impressive progression.

Style and tactics:

Jose Manuel de la Torre -- "Chepo" -- is Mexico's man in charge, and he is hardly a universally approved leader. Should his team further falter, then assistant Luis Fernando Tena must be in line to replace him after coaching the Olympics team. With Javier Hernandez as the fulcrum in attack, Mexico will play 4-2-3-1 as they habitually do against better quality opposition. Hernandez's development as a better holdup player at Manchester United will aid the system, but the seeds of their 2014 qualifying problems are a lack of goals, with supply lines being scant.

Coach Cesare Prandelli was, with due deference to Andrea Pirlo, perhaps the Azzurri's star of last June in Poland and Ukraine. His innovation was the key to Italian progress, first playing 3-5-2 against Spain in the opener and then devastating Germany with a 4-3-1-2 in the semis. He has added 4-3-3 to his locker in the year since as he tries to fit fresh talent into his lineup, but Prandelli is very much a manager who employs different systems for each challenge. The defence, as is traditional, will sit deep and defend like dervishes.

Players to watch:

It goes without saying that Javier Hernandez is the star forward for Mexico, after a season spent rather too much on the sideline at Old Trafford. Creative spark Giovani Dos Santos continues to be that rarity -- a player far better for country than club. Hector Herrera was the star at London 2012 but faces a fight to be selected ahead of dependable veteran Gerardo Torrado in midfield.

The beard gets more lustrous, and the skills remain. Andrea Pirlo, once converted to a deep-lying playmaker, has always played with time on his hands but is 34 now. Yet he remains the key Italian player. Mario Balotelli's love life may finally have settled down, and he seems happier than in any time in his career, back in Milan. His club colleague Stephan El Shaarawy is one of the new generation that Prandelli is trying to assimilate. Defence remains as important as ever, and Juventus' masterful Giorgio Chiellini leads that department with huge quality.

What can we expect?

This presents a different challenge to Mexico's recent competitive matches in that they will be playing opposition that expects to be on the ball and will thus have far more defending to do. Prandelli can be expected to go experimental as he seeks to finesse another approach. A hell-for-leather affair is hardly expected, but Mexico have a habit of playing their best football in the first half of matches.

Who'll win?

It might happen via a different means to their Hexagonal travails, but expect draw specialists Mexico to get their usual result. The Italians have historically started tournaments slowly, and this might be no exception.

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