GENEVA (AP) — Mario Balotelli scored a stunning goal as Italy came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Brazil in an entertaining friendly in Geneva on Thursday.
It looked as if Italy would pay for its missed opportunities when Brazil took a 2-0 halftime lead thanks to goals from Fred and Oscar.
However, Daniele De Rossi pulled one back nine minutes after the interval and the in-form Balotelli leveled with a screamer from about 25 yards (meters) three minutes later, taking his tally to eight goals in eight games in 2013 for club and country.
"Italy's two goals stemmed from our mistakes, and not from their creation," Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar said. "When they attacked well I managed to control it, in particular by coming out of my area several times.
"I don't want to mention names, it's something that concerns only us, but you can be sure we will talk about it. We made mistakes in our passing and we made ourselves vulnerable at times. But we can't forget that Italy is a great team. But we still would have won if we hadn't made certain mistakes."
Mattia De Sciglio and Alessio Cerci were given their Italy debuts with the AC Milan defender starting, while Torino winger Cerci came on at halftime.
Italy is without defender Giorgio Chiellini, who was sent home Wednesday with injuries to both ankles, while Claudio Marchisio was a late withdrawal due to illness.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will be pleased with the performance as well as the result. Italy's second consecutive friendly draw follows a run of five successive defeats — a contrast to its performance in World Cup qualifying, where Prandelli's side tops its group with 10 points from four games.
Italy's qualifying campaign continues in Malta next week.
"We played a great game," Prandelli said. "We conceded two goals after 30 minutes and it looked like the game was over. But instead we were good to come back and did some interesting things.
"Mario scored a very good goal and created a number of chances for himself. The important thing now is to get back our energy for Tuesday because there are three very important points at stake against Malta."
There was a minute's silence before the game in memory of Pietro Mennea, an Olympic sprint champion and former 200 meter world record holder from Italy, who died Thursday. All the Italy players wore black armbands.
Both teams also held up a banner against racism before the match, while Milan striker Kevin Prince-Boateng made a special appearance on the pitch and was greeted with warm applause.
Boateng was in the Swiss city attending an event against racism at the U.N.'s European headquarters. The Milan striker made headlines when he led teammates off the field in protest at racial abuse from fans of Italian fourth-tier team Pro Patria during a friendly in January.
Italy started brightly and had several chances to take an early lead with Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar saving smartly from Emanuele Giaccherini and Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli also saw a low drive deflected just past the right post in the 13th minute.
The missed chances came back to haunt Italy when Brazil took the lead in the 33rd minute. A cross from the left was headed on by Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci and Fred was on hand to volley home from close range.
Andrea Pirlo came close to leveling five minutes from the break but he curled a shot just past the left post from 17 yards (meters).
Brazil doubled its lead two minutes later following a rapid counter attack. Neymar threaded the ball through to Oscar who sidefooted it past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Prandelli rang the changes at halftime, bringing on Stephan El Shaarawy for Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, and Cerci for Pirlo.
The changes provided new impetus and the Azzurri pulled one back nine minutes later when a corner from the left fell to De Rossi and he fired it home from close range.
Balotelli leveled shortly afterwards, collecting the ball at distance and firing a powerful shot into the top right corner.
The Milan striker could even have won the game for Italy later on, but sent another shot straight at Julio Cesar and then saw an effort deflected over the bar.