When the draw for the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 was made, this closing match in Group B had all the makings of a decider for first place.
Italy's 1-0 defeat to Egypt on Thursday, their first ever reverse to an African side, has changed all that. Marcello Lippi's charges now find themselves level on three points with the Egyptians, three behind their opponents on Sunday, which means that even if they beat Brazil they could still conceivably go out of the tournament. And as a look at the history books reveals, the Brazilians have a habit of dashing Azzurri hopes on big occasions, having won their two FIFA World Cup™ Final meetings in 1970 and 1994.
It has come as a surprise to see the world champions against the ropes in the group phase of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009. After coming from behind to secure an ultimately comfortable 3-1 win over USA, the unsuspecting Italians were ambushed by Egypt in Johannesburg, putting them on the brink of an unexpected exit from the Festival of Champions. What better way then for the men in blue to exorcise the ghosts of Thursday evening with victory over one of their oldest and most awkward rivals?
That defeat for Italy could have serious consequences for Carlos Dunga's side, who run the risk, albeit remote, of going out of the tournament if they lose by a sizeable margin on Sunday and Egypt rack up a big enough win against USA. The five-time world champions kicked off with a 4-3 defeat of the battling Egyptians before securing an altogether more comfortable 3-0 win over the Americans, a game in which Dunga put out an experimental side featuring four changes.
Cannavaro vs. Robinho
Team-mates for two seasons at Real Madrid, the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year and the Brazilian magician now have the chance to reprise their training-ground duels in what has now become a decisive encounter for both sides.
The centre-half and Azzurri captain, who has just made his return to Juventus, is the cornerstone of the Italian defence, while the Manchester City forward is full of confidence after scoring against USA. Robinho was also on target when the two sides last met, a 2-0 win for the South American masters in a friendly in London back in February. Cannavaro was helpless to prevent the diminutive Brazilian from netting a wonder goal on that occasion. The question is, who will come out on top when the two cross swords again in Tshwane/Pretoria?
Brazil 4-1 Italy, 21 June 1970, 1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico, Mexico City
In what was considered by many as the finest performance ever seen in a FIFA World Cup match, a hugely gifted Brazil side swept to victory over the Italians with goals from Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto, claiming the Jules Rimet Cup for the third time in the process. In recognition of their achievement, the Brazilians were awarded the coveted trophy outright.
125 - The number of appearances Fabio Cannavaro has made for Italy. Should the central defender make it on to the pitch against Brazil, he will equal the national record set by recently retired team-mate Paolo Maldini.
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Brazil's two left-backs have been competing in more ways than one recently. As well as fighting it out for a position that seems to be causing coach Dunga more headaches than any other, Kleber and Andre Santos play their club football for Internacional and Corinthians respectively. The sides met last week in the first leg of the Brazilian Cup final, with Corinthians winning 2-0. That healthy rivalry has not prevented the two from rooming together at Brazil's hotel though!
"Tactically, Italy are almost always perfect. Every time we play them it's always like that. There's a long rivalry between us too. It doesn't matter what the occasion is, whenever Brazil and Italy meet it's always a tight, tense game. I know almost all of the Italy players because I play for AS Roma and I know they're a great side. My team-mate Daniele de Rossi is without doubt one of the best players in the world in his position, for example." Brazil defender Juan
"I really want us to be competitive against the top sides and I want to win this trophy. But even if we beat Brazil and don't go through, I'll still be happy because it will prove to me that we can defeat strong teams like them. Italy can beat Brazil then Spain in the semi-finals and beat Brazil again in the final." Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon
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