The Maracana will open its doors for the first time at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 this Sunday as CONCACAF champions Mexico take on UEFA EURO 2012 runners-up Italy in the opening Group A fixture for both teams.
Mexico-Italy, Rio de Janeiro, Sunday 16 June, 16.00 (local time)
With only the top two from each group advancing to the semi-finals, neither side can afford a mishap that would leave them on zero points before taking on section rivals Brazil and Japan. Mexico will be buoyed by their experience in this competition, but Italy will draw confidence from their record against the CONCACAF heavyweights, having lost just once to them in 11 games – a 2-1 friendly defeat in their last meeting in 2010. Mexico will also be keen to end their record of having conceded at least once in all those matches.
Squadra Azzurra coach Cesare Prandelli has travelled with a squad containing a number of relatively untried players, and his charges got to grips with their Brazilian surroundings in a low-key 2-2 draw against Haiti on Tuesday. Against Mexico, the European challengers may take a punt on wing duo Alessio Cerci and Antonio Candreva in order to provide more width and attacking thrust, while Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy will look to justify all the hope placed in their burgeoning strike partnership.
In the opposition camp, forwards Javier Hernandez (25), Giovani dos Santos (24) and Andres Guardado (26) can hardly be described as veteran campaigners, but Jose Manuel de la Torre will be hoping for big things from all three if his side are to prevail. Further back, he can count on the vast experience of defensive stalwarts Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Salcido.
20 – Not only have Mexico made a habit of appearing in the Festival of Champions down the years, they have tended to keep the crowds entertained while there, racking up 33 goals and conceding 28. Against Italy, El Tri will be contesting their 20th game at this level, having missed just three of the eight previous editions. Their greatest moment came on home soil in 1999, when they won the only FIFA Confederations Cup to be held in the CONCACAF region.
"This competition will help us improve our team spirit even more, and it will also allow us to look at several players who could be useful in the future. We'll be starting against Mexico, who tend to play with lots of intensity, combining technique with speed. The Mexicans aren't here by mistake – they have quality in their team, particularly in attack," Cesare Prandelli, Italy coach.
"Whenever there's a tournament, you always thing Italy, Spain or Brazil have a chance, but you can never afford to rule out the other teams. Football is evolving quickly, there's not such a big difference between international teams anymore," Jose Manuel de la Torre, Mexico coach.