Balotelli doubtful for Italy's clash against Mexico
Italy and Mexico will both be looking for an upturn in recent fortunes when they open their Confederations Cup campaigns against each other in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
Italy’s last outing was a 2-2 friendly draw with minnows Haiti on Tuesday that coach Cesare Prandelli described as “embarrassing”, while Mexico were booed off after a goalless draw with Costa Rica on the same day.
The Italian stalemate followed a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier, but Mexico’s situation is far more troubling. The draw with Costa Rica was their fifth in six World Cup qualifying matches this year and has fuelled discontent among fans regarding the position of manager Jose de la Torre.
Mexico are in a perilous position in CONCACAF qualifying, just a point above Honduras in the third and final automatic qualifying place, having played a game more than every other team except bottom-ranked Jamaica.
Not since they were barred from the 1990 tournament for fielding an over-age player at a youth tournament have Mexico failed to appear at a World Cup, but Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio does not think it will affect their focus.
“It’s a problem for the team, but I think that once they're on the pitch, the players will forget about it and cause us some problems,” said the Juventus midfielder.
Italy lost 2-1 to Mexico when the sides last met in a friendly in Brussels in June 2010, but it was the first time the Azzurri had been beaten by the Central American powerhouses in 11 encounters.
Meanwhile, Italy striker Mario Balotelli is doubtful for the game after withdrawing from training on Friday due to pain in his right thigh. He was due to be assessed by team doctor Enrico Castellacci on Saturday evening.
Andrea Pirlo will win his 100th cap if he plays, which would make the elegant Juventus playmaker only the fifth Italian player to cross that threshold after Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Paolo Maldini and Dino Zoff. Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, the only player to score in a competitive game for Mexico in 2013, is expected to start up front for De la Torre’s side. Mallorca attacking midfielder Giovani dos Santos will hope for a recall after starting the game against Costa Rica on the bench.