• Confederations Cup

Balotelli leads Italy to Mexico win

ESPN staff
June 16, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Andrea Pirlo scores on 100th appearance

Mario Balotelli scored a late winner as Italy beat Mexico 2-1 in the Confederations Cup on Sunday.

Balotelli expertly controlled an inch-perfect pass from Emanuele Giaccherini and muscled between two defenders to win the Group A game - the first competitive match at renovated Maracana Stadium.

Andrea Pirlo, celebrating his 100th cap, gave the Azzurri the lead with a trademark free kick in the 27th minute before Mexico replied soon after when Javier Hernandez scored from the spot after Andrea Barzagli tripped Giovani Dos Santos.

Italy had not impressed in their last two matches, drawing with both the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier and with minnows Haiti upon arriving in Brazil earlier this week, but Pirlo and Balotelli made the difference this time.

For his 13th international goal, Pirlo curled a rifling dead-ball over Mexico's wall into the top left corner after Balotelli earned the free kick from 30 yards.

As usual, Balotelli was his temperamental self. Midway through the second half, he kicked his boot across the penalty area after being thwarted by Mexico's stubborn defence.

But the AC Milan striker finally broke through as the match appeared headed for a draw, holding off Mexico captain Francisco Rodriguez then powering past another defender, Hiram Mier, to score as he skidded across the grass.

Much like at last year's European Championship, when he scored both goals in a 2-1 semi-final win over Germany and pulled off his shirt after one of them, Balotelli stripped off his jersey to show off his muscular physique, earning a yellow card.

Perhaps worried he might pick up a second yellow card, as in the match against the Czech Republic, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli replaced Balotelli in the 85th with Alberto Gilardino. Balotelli walked off to a warm reception from the sold-out crowd on a comfortable afternoon.

For Mexico, the loss will extend pressure on coach Jose Manuel de la Torre. Mexico has won only one of six qualifiers with three goals scored, and failed to find the target at all in its last two drawn matches against Panama and Costa Rica.

Still, Mexican fans, many wearing their customary sombreros, hugely outnumbered blue-clad Italian supporters.

In the next round of Group A matches on Wednesday, Italy face Japan in Recife and Mexico play Brazil in Fortaleza.

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