Goals from Dante, Neymar and a brace from Fred gave Brazil a well-deserved 4-2 victory over Italy on Saturday as the improving hosts made it three wins from three in the Confederations Cup.
With Neymar in sparkling form and Fred always dangerous in front of goal, Brazil were the better team for most of a Group A match they never looked like losing. Both were sides already through to the semi-finals of the World Cup warm-up so Italy coach Cesare Prandelli freshened things up with five changes from the team that started against Japan in Recife three days ago.
But even though home side Brazil only needed a point to qualify in first place, they were the hungrier side from the off. "Movement is important and we are doing it well, the variations we have in attack, we change position and it drives the opposition a bit crazy," Neymar told reporters.
Brazil almost took the lead in the first minute when Hulk forced Gianluigi Buffon to get down smartly to turn his shot round the post. New Barcelona signing Neymar should have done better than blaze wide after Oscar set him up with a lovely flick in 24th minute and he was unlucky to see one shot blocked after a lovely backheel and one-two on the edge of the box a few moments later. It was Neymar again who was involved in the opening goal right on halftime.
His inswinging free kick from the left was headed goalbound by Fred and when Buffon could only parry it out, Dante was on hand to sidefoot the ball home. Italy grabbed an equaliser six minutes into the second period and it was Mario Balotelli who played a key role. His sublime backheeled flick put Emanuele Giaccherini free and he hammered his angled drive past Julio Cesar.
Their lead did not last long, however. Four minutes later Neymar won a dubious free kick right on the edge of the box and he took the kick himself, curling a perfect shot into the top corner of the net past a helpless Buffon. Fred increased Brazil's lead in the 66th minute when he latched onto a long ball from Marcelo and held off a defender before smashing the ball into the roof of the net from six metres. Italy were down but not out and they snatched a goal back in the 71st minute.
The Brazilian defence failed to clear a corner and the ball fell to Giorgio Chiellini, who fired home despite Brazil protests that the referee had already blown for a foul on Balotelli. Fred put a more accurate sheen on the result when he scored a fourth just a minute from time. Buffon was unable to hold a Marcelo shot and the striker was on hand to slot home.
"Everybody knows Italy and we scored four against them," Oscar said. "But it was a difficult game. And it was a great game for the fans. "Brazil are getting better and every game is better than the last," the midfielder added. "We were good in the first half today and we just need to keep getting better."
The win was Brazil's 10th successive Confederations Cup victory and the team's fourth in a row under coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Their semi-final opponents on Wednesday in Belo Horizonte are likely to be Uruguay, with the South Americans facing Tahiti on Sunday in their final Group B game.
Nigeria are level on points with second-placed Uruguay but face group leaders and world champions Spain, Italy's probable last four opponents on Thursday in Fortaleza.