Football: Italy, Mexico seek Confed Cup catalyst

Italy and Mexico will both be looking for an upturn in recent fortunes when they open their Confederations Cup campaigns against each other in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

Italy's last outing was a 2-2 friendly draw with minnows Haiti on Tuesday that coach Cesare Prandelli described as "embarrassing", while Mexico were booed off after a goalless draw with Costa Rica on the same day.

The Italian stalemate followed a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier, but Mexico's situation is far more troubling.

The draw with Costa Rica was their fifth in six World Cup qualifying matches this year and has fuelled discontent among fans regarding the position of manager Jose de la Torre.

Mexico are in a perilous position in CONCACAF qualifying, just a point above Honduras in the third and final automatic qualifying place, having played a game more than every other team except bottom-ranked Jamaica.

Not since they were barred from the 1990 tournament for fielding an over-age player at a youth tournament have Mexico failed to appear at a World Cup, but Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio does not think it will affect their focus.

"It's a problem for the team, but I think that once they're on the pitch, the players will forget about it and cause us some problems," said the Juventus midfielder.

Italy lost 2-1 to Mexico when the sides last met in a friendly in Brussels in June 2010, but it was the first time the Azzurri had been beaten by the Central American powerhouses in 11 encounters.

However, Mexico are Confederations Cup veterans, having featured in five of the previous eight editions, prevailing on home soil in 1999, and despite his side's recent travails, De la Torre believes they are capable of springing a surprise.

"Whenever there's a tournament, you always think Italy, Spain or Brazil have a chance, but you can never afford to rule out the other teams," he said.

"Football is evolving quickly. There's not such a big difference between international teams anymore."

Italy striker Mario Balotelli is doubtful for the game after withdrawing from training on Friday due to pain in his right thigh.

He is due to be assessed by team doctor Enrico Castellacci on Saturday.

Andrea Pirlo will win his 100th cap if he plays, which would make the elegant Juventus playmaker only the fifth Italian player to cross that threshold after Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Paolo Maldini and Dino Zoff.

Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, the only player to score in a competitive game for Mexico in 2013, is expected to start up front for De la Torre's side.

Mallorca attacking midfielder Giovani dos Santos will hope for a recall after starting the game against Costa Rica on the bench.

Saturday's game will be the first competitive match to be staged at the newly refurbished Maracana, which hosted its first official game on June 2 when Brazil drew 2-2 with England in a friendly.

Workers continued to apply the finishing touches to the iconic 78,838 arena on Friday, but tournament organisers have insisted the venue will be ready on time.

"The stadium was delivered and there were two test matches with complete success in the most absolute tranquility and security," said Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo.

Security concerns around the game have escalated following angry protests over public transport price increases in Rio on Thursday night, which saw 20 people arrested.

The other two teams in Group A, Japan and hosts Brazil, meet in Brasilia on Saturday in the tournament's opening game.