When canary-yellow meets blue
Over 25 million Brazilians are of Italian descent. This, 42 per cent of Italy's population, contributes to a melodic chemistry between two countries that are connected culturally and characteristically.
Each prides itself on having unique, iconic attractions, charming, gregarious inhabitants and beautiful ladies. They also share a passion for - an obsession with, even - football, and half of the FIFA World Cup's™ 18 editions have been won by A Seleção or I Azzurri. Naturally, an amiable rivalry has grown between them.
It was one born in the semi-finals of France 1938, when they first collided. Italy were the defending world champions, headlined by Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola. Brazil were the suspected inheritors of their crown, spearhead by the singular phenomenon that was Leonidas da Silva.
But so confident was the South Americans' coach Ademar Pimenta of victory that he rested his star striker. It proved a fatal mistake. Brazil played handsome, adventurous football; Italy defended resolutely and were ruthlessly efficient - respective styles for which they have been renowned throughout history - and ultimately the Europeans emerged 2-1 victors en route to lifting the trophy.
Brazil yearned revenge and, although it took them 32 years for them to exact, it was worth the wait. The Mexico 1970 Final provided them the perfect stage for redemption, and Carlos Alberto, Gerson, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Pele, Tostao and Co claimed it emphatically, defeating Italy 4-1 in an enthralling performance for which they became renowned as 'The Beautiful Team'.
"It is always a special occasion when Brazil play Italy," said Pele. "But that game was extra special. The winners would keep the Jules Rimet Trophy [Brazil and Italy had won the competition an unsurpassed twice apiece], there would be over 100,000 in the Estadio Azteca and almost one billion watching on television.
"It would be a clash of styles. We were the grand entertainers; they were the masters of catenaccio and the counter-attack. It was the implacable force against the immovable object, and the world was fascinated to see who would win. Thankfully we had the most beautiful team in history."
Not all his compatriots agree. Some, by contrast, consider Brazil's most thrilling symphony its class of Spain 1982, when they met Italy in a match that dictated which team would reach the semi-finals. A Seleção were the overwhelming favourites. Leandro, Junior, Toninho Cerezo, Falcao, Socrates, Zico, Eder and Co had illuminated their way through four successive victories, while I Azzurri had tepidly crawled through to the second group stage by virtue of goals scored, before edging Argentina.
On a memorable day in Barcelona, however, the script that had been affirmatively penned in canary-yellow was rewritten in blue. Its author was Paolo Rossi, who scored all his team's goals in a 3-2 triumph. It was the fourth meeting between the two sides at the FIFA World Cup [Brazil had beaten Italy 2-1 in the match for third place at Argentina 1978].
The fifth and, to date, last meeting between these illustrious heavyweights on the grandest stage of all actualised in the USA 1994 Final. After 120 minutes failed to render a goal, Carlos Alberto Parreira's charges won 3-2 on penalties. Today, 15 years on from their last competitive match, the sides are set to engage for the 14th time overall [Brazil boast six victories to Italy's five].
"It is always a special occasion when Brazil play Italy," said Rivelino, the son of Italian immigrants who grew up supporting Palmeiras, a club incepted by Italians as Palestra Italia [Cruzeiro, another of Brazil's biggest clubs, was also founded by Italians under the same name], in the run-up to USA 1994. "Many Brazilians have Italian parents, grandparents, and our culture has a strong Italian influence. Brazilians and Italians have a lot of similarities and also share a great passion for football. I think it's fair to say that when Brazil are out of a competition, many of us support Italy and the other way around."
Given Brazil's Italian ancestry and the imprint Brazilians have left on Italy's Serie A, this may well be true. Today, though, this kinship will be irrelevant as they both pursue a place in the South Africa 2009 semi-finals.