Tonight’s glamour tie in Geneva will evoke memories of Mexico City 1970 and Barcelona 1982 for those of a certain vintage, but the reality is that these two powerhouses of world football are in deep transition. Viewers reminiscing about Carlos Alberto finishing a wonderful team move and performance may expect something a little more fragmented, while Mario Balotelli now fills the Paolo Rossi shaped hole as Italy’s main striker.
The adversaries hold nine World Cup titles between them, but Brazil are now a lowly 18 in the Fifa rankings after failing to impress on the international stage since 2002. The South Americans have failed to produce a team that can compare to that generation, and although they can call on exciting young talent like Neymar and Paulinho, the trio of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho was the last forward-line to truly strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was reappointed as coach late last year, believes that the advantage is totally with the Europeans. The World Cup winner said: "Italy are way ahead of us in terms of rebuilding their team. My Brazil side have played two games but Prandelli's team are the European Championship runners-up."
Criticism of Italy may seem a little harsh after a commendable performance in last year’s European Championships. A place in the final is more than anybody predicted, and although the tournament did much to regain some national pride after a disastrous World Cup campaign two years earlier, coach Cesare Prandelli still has a big rebuilding job on his hands.
The hero of last summer, Andrea Pirlo, has continued to defy his age by dominating midfields at home and in Europe. His excellent partnership with Claudio Marchisio for club and country is a great weapon for Prandelli, but the former Roma coach knows too well that his maestro won’t go on forever.
The impressive tactician has picked an experimental squad for the meeting this evening, but he made it clear he was not obliged to divulge and details on who he might start, despite the uncompetitive nature of this fixture.
He said: "I have to prepare well for this game without giving any kind of advantage to Brazil. You can infer some of our plans having watched our training session, though. It's a game we want to play to the best of our ability so we can make life difficult for Brazil."
Balotelli, in red-hot form with seven goals in six games since his move to Milan, looks set to start for the Azzuri alongside young prodigy Stephan El Shaarawy, while Kaka and Thiago Silva should lead out a strong Brazil side.
Brazil 2 – 0 Italy (Elano, Robinho) – Emirates Stadium, 10/02/2009
Italy: D 1 – 1 v Holland (A)
Brazil: L 2-1 v England (A)