The Azzurri are in London on Tuesday, but instead of facing Fabio Capello’s England, it’s a Brazil side featuring Ronaldinho, Adriano and Alexandre Pato who they’ll do battle with at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
The history of clashes between the two most successful countries in World Cup history is of course long and glorious, and while this friendly is unlikely to match the drama and intensity of a tournament showdown, it’s still an important fixture for Marcello Lippi to assess his options ahead of a renewed assault on World Cup Qualifying Group Eight next month.
Friendlies, by their nature, are unpredictable affairs, and you can expect a lot of changes on Tuesday night, but it may be a chance for new stars on both sides to emerge. Here we look at the key battles that could affect the clash at the Emirates.
Fabio Cannavaro vs Adriano
The Azzurri’s leader, chief rabble rouser and poster boy hasn’t quite rediscovered the form that won him the Ballon d’Or in 2006, but he remains a crucial part of Lippi’s plans.
Many point to Cannavaro’s presence in the Real Madrid side as the main reason why the club have won the last two La Liga titles, and perhaps one of the reasons that Barcelona seem to be running away with it this year is Cannavaro’s absence from key clashes.
Up against him in London will be Adriano. Seemingly having been around forever, it’s hard to believe that he is still only 26. Thirty-one goals in fifty-one appearances for his country only tell half the story of the volatile Inter man, but on his day there are few better forwards in world football, it’s just that ‘his day’ isn’t seen very often any more.
Cannavaro will know that he’ll be in for a tough time against the burly forward, but he has played against every top striker in the world and is unlikely to have a sleepless night worrying about the force in Adriano’s left foot. Maybe he’ll be more worried about his fists…
Andrea Dossena vs Daniel Alves/Maicon
Dossena has started Liverpool’s last two games now, and is slowly but surely beginning to look like the man that the Reds paid £7m for. Tuesday will see the left back playing his sixth game for his country, and he is fast becoming a regular on the international scene. Direct, quick and an capable of delivering excellent crosses, Dossena has often looked like a fish out of water in a Liverpool side chasing the Premier League crown, but he has all the qualities required of a regular international star, and seems to just need to believe in himself a bit more to succeed. He’ll be lining up against Daniel Alves and/or Douglas Maicon, arguably the two finest attacking full backs in world football, and thankfully for Italy both probably won’t play at the same time. Both are leading stars in teams who find themselves away and clear at the top of their respective leagues, and their directness and attacking ability add to every team who are lucky enough to have them. Alves, in his first season at Barcelona, has forged a remarkable partnership with Lionel Messi on the right flank, while Maicon has provided Inter with the attacking qualities that Ricardo Quaresma was supposed to do. Dossena will need to remain focused throughout the game to have any chance of stopping the free-flowing wing-play of the Brazilians.
Gianluca Zambrotta vs Robinho
On the opposite flank to Dossena will be the man who made way for Alves at Barcelona. Zambrotta will turn 32 in a week-and-a-half, and celebrates ten years as an Italian international this season. Whether or not his powers are on the wane are up for debate, but it can’t be argued that in 80 appearances for his country the Como-born right-back has proved to be one of the best defenders in world football. Quick, and with an eye for goal, Zambrotta has played nineteen times for Milan in Serie A this season, and is a vital cog in both the Rossoneri and Azzurri machines. Although not strictly a left-winger, Robinho does prefer to attack from that flank during games. While Kaka wasn’t prepared to become a part of the Manchester City gamble, this Brazilian was, and so far his spell in England has proved to be hit-and-miss. Dazzling in some of City’s home games, the slight frame of the number 10 has gone missing during away matches, particularly in England’s harsh mid-winter climate. Robinho has all the skill that any footballer can want, but sometimes this can’t be allied to team performances, and while he can be a loose cannon at times, he’s one that Zambrotta and his teammates will need to keep more than one eye on.
Luca Toni vs Lucio
Remember Euro 2008? Well Luca Toni has spent the last eight months trying to forget it. Forlorn, lacking in creativity and misfiring, Toni’s form seemed to symbol that of his team, but the old adage about form being temporary and class permanent could have been invented for the man from Pavullo nel Frignano. Eleven goals in twenty-one games for Bayern Munich this season suggest that Toni is still the Italian most likely to find the back of the Brazilian net. The striker’s vice-captain at Bayern is likely to spend Tuesday night in close vicinity to him. Brazilian captain Lucio has seventy-six caps for his country, and is one of the game’s most respected and feared defenders. He’ll have to keep a close eye on Toni though as, in typical Brazilian style, he’s likely to have plenty of his teammates rushing forward to join attacks. If Toni wins this battle then the chances are that the Azzurri will win the game.
Andrea Pirlo vs Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato
Although not exactly likely to be seen head-to-head and snapping at each other’s ankles, the battle of the Milan stars could be the most crucial one to the clash. All three can decide games with their astonishing skills, and all three have on several occasions. All three can dictate and control play for their sides, and all three will be looking to do so. All three can win a game with a vital pass or long-range shot, and the chances are that one of them will. Pirlo was instrumental in the 2006 World Cup win (his pass for Fabio Grosso’s semi-final goal against Germany was a personal highlight), but Ronaldinho was also key in Brazil’s 2002 triumph and who knows what heights Pato can reach? Together on a Milan teamsheet the trio are terrific to watch – seeing them up against each other should be a joy.
Amauri vs Amauri
Wouldn’t you love to be watching this match round at Amauri’s house? Sitting on his sofa with his half-blue and half-yellow shirt on, the in-demand Juventus striker, wanted by both countries due to his impending dual-nationality, will have much to ponder. Originally called up by Brazilian coach Dunga, Juventus’ subsequent failure to allow their forward to join up with the Samba stars means that he’s technically still up for grabs. Where he’ll end up is up to him, but surely everyone would have loved to see him turn out for both sides in this clash, playing a half for each. No? Just me then.