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Mar 22, 2013

Neymar: I'm a 'big fan' of Balotelli

Santos superstar Neymar admits he is a "big fan" of Mario Balotelli after witnessing the striker's superb equaliser in Italy's 2-2 friendly draw with Brazil on Thursday.

Balotelli and Daniele De Rossi scored to cancel out Brazil's first-half goals through Fred and Oscar, handing Italy a positive result heading into next week's World Cup qualifier against Malta.

Two of world football's most enigmatic strikers were pitted against one another during the friendly and Neymar revealed he has been inspired by Balotelli's career both on and off the pitch.

"He's a player that I'm a big fan of. A great player and great person," Neymar said. "I think the Selecao were good. We are getting better with each passing day and you can see our team improving. It's a great team, with players of real quality."

QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar played a full 90 minutes for the Selecao but was left frustrated by his side's inability to maintain their two-goal lead, claiming the draw was an indication of Brazil's failings rather than Italy's ability.

"The game was in our hands, but we stalled," Julio Cesar said. "They scored two goals from our errors more than by their merit. Of course they had merit, but they scored from things we got wrong."

Despite scoring the decisive goal for Italy, Balotelli was criticsed after the match for failing to capitalise on a number of chances in front of goal.

Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli defended his striker, insisting the 22-year-old's club form is translating on the international stage.

"[Balotelli] had the best opportunities and scored a great goal," Prandelli told RAI. "The important thing is that he is at the top of his game during competitions.

"We had a great game. We were down 2-0 at break. I looked to transmit the feeling we could score then equalise. We risked a lot being 2-0 down but we were better organised in the second half. It was good spirit from the team. I like us being in this form as it gives us more confidence."

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