Balotelli goal lifts Italy over Mexico

RIO DE JANEIRO - A second half goal by Mario Balotelli proved to be the difference as Italy defeated Mexico, 2-1, in each team's FIFA Confederations Cup opener at Estadio do Maracana Sunday afternoon.

At the renovated site of the 2014 World Cup final, Balotelli secured three points for the Azzurri in the 74th minute.

A threat throughout the match, the AC Milan forward took a flicked-on ball by Emanuele Giaccherini, powered past defender Francisco Rodriguez, split two more defenders and beat Jesus Corona from eight meters for what proved to be the winning goal.

Andrea Pirlo celebrated his 100th cap in style with a perfectly placed free kick over the four-man Mexican wall from 28 meters to give the Azzurri a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute.

El Tri leveled eight minutes later, when Javier Hernandez put a low penalty kick to the left of Gianluigi Buffon, who guessed the wrong way. Andrea Barzagli was stripped by Giovani Dos Santos, who was then barged down in the box as Chilean referee Enrique Osses pointed to the spot and booked the Italian defender.

The enigmatic Balotelli nearly struck five minutes into the match, intercepting a square pass from Rodriguez. His long-distance lob, though, was off the mark.

Two minutes later, Balotelli did get a shot on target, taking a pass from Giaccherini. Corona came up with a huge save on the attempt from 12 meters.

After surviving a wave of early pressure, Mexico nearly capitalized in the 11th minute. Dos Santos won a battle for the ball with Ignazio Abate and sent a cross into the box to Andres Guardado. The Valencia midfielder's left-footed shot crashed off the crossbar.

As was the case in the opening moments of the first half, Italy pressured Mexico immediately after the break.

In the 54th minute, Pirlo put a low free kick from 26 meters off bottom of the Mexican wall. The ball deflected to Riccardo Montolivo, but the midfielder could only tap the ball with the outside of his foot from the edge of the six-yard box as Corona made the save.

Pirlo didn't miss by much with a free kick five minutes later, putting another attempt from 26 meters just wide of the post.

Guardado delivered a perfect free kick by the corner flag towards Gerardo Flores, but the Cruz Azul defender's downward header in the 70th minute was well off the mark.

Balotelli used his strength and sublime touch to give the Italians the victory minutes afterwards.

Mexico next faces host Brazil Wednesday in Fortaleza, before closing out group play against Japan in Belo Horizonte on June 22.