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Football | Fifa Confed Cup

Mario Balotelli and Neymar © Gallo Images

Neymar and Balotelli face off



Neymar and Mario Balotelli will be attracting most of the attention when Brazil and Italy play to decide the Group A winner at the Confederations Cup on Saturday.

The strikers are two of the tournament's biggest stars and have played up to expectations so far, scoring two goals each in the first two matches.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said on Friday it will be "nice to see them together" when the teams play in the northeastern city of Salvador.

Brazil and Italy have already secured a spot in the next round. The group winners will probably avoid Spain in the semifinals of the warm-up tournament, although both coaches are downplaying the significance of delaying a matchup against the World Cup champions.

There was a lot of hype surrounding Neymar and Balotelli ahead of the Confederations Cup, and they have been decisive for their national teams so far.

Balotelli scored a remarkable winner when Italy defeated Mexico 2-1 in its opener last Sunday, then converted a penalty kick that helped the Italians edge Japan 4-3 on Wednesday.

Neymar netted an outstanding goal from outside the area to open the scoring in Brazil's 3-0 rout of Japan in the tournament's opening match last Saturday, then had another remarkable strike to put the hosts on the board first in the 2-0 victory over Mexico on Wednesday.

The newly signed Barcelona forward also set up the second goal against Mexico after a nifty move past two Mexican defenders inside the area.

"The problem with Neymar, as with all great players, is that you can't stop him just by marking well," Prandelli said. "You need to do a good job limiting the spaces."

Neymar said he became friends with Balotelli after Brazil played Italy to a 2-2 draw in a friendly in Geneva earlier this year. Brazilian media even reported that the players are planning to travel together in Brazil after the end of the competition.

"I'm a fan of Balotelli," Neymar said recently. "He is one of the greatest in the world. I've always watched him play. He is a great person and I've always admired his moves."

Brazil and Italy are tied with six points atop Group A, but the hosts are ahead on goal difference and can secure first place with a draw on Saturday. Italy has to beat Brazil to likely avoid Spain, which is leading Group B.

Prandelli said. "We are not thinking about Spain at all. If we have to play Spain, we will talk about it later."

Although Neymar and Balotelli are set to start on Saturday, both teams will be without key players for the match at the Arena Fonte Nova.

Italy will miss star midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who is nursing a strained right leg muscle, adding to Prandelli's problems in midfield. The coach also won't be able to count on Daniele De Rossi, who is suspended after receiving two yellow cards.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will be without defensive midfielder Paulinho because of a left ankle sprain sustained in the match against Mexico. Doctors said the injury is not serious but the player will be left out so he can fully recover ahead of the semifinals.

Chelsea defender David Luiz sustained what the Brazilian federation called a "minor fracture" in his nose after being hit in the face against Mexico, but he is set to play on Saturday despite the injury.

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