Mexico boosts morale with win over Italy
Carlos Vela and Alberto Medina exposed a slow, ragged Italy defense in Mexico's 2-1 victory over the defending World Cup champions Thursday, giving the Mexicans a major boost heading to the tournament.
Vela took a high pass from Giovani Dos Santos in the center and without any serious challenge lined up a drive from 12 yards that gave goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon no chance in the 16th minute.
Ten minutes from the final whistler, substitute Medina beat Italy's offside trap, and from a tight right angle beat Buffon.
Italy pulled one back in the 89th minute when defender Leonardo Bonucci scored from close range after Salvatore Bocchetti hit the goalpost.
In Italy's first preparation game for the World Cup, the Azzurri looked sluggish for long stretches and were mostly running after the ball, dictating play far too little.
The Azzurri have been training at high altitude in the Italian Alps, and coach Marcello Lippi attributed the disappointing performance to a lack of fitness.
"We've been up in the mountains for 10 days, we arrived here this morning and we were up against a team in much better form than us - you can't analyze this game based on anything else," Lippi said. "The players told me their legs felt very heavy."
Italy's best chance came in the third minute when Vincenzo Iaquinta forced a great one-handed save from goalkeeper Oscar Perez off the crossbar.
After losses to England and the Netherlands in the past two weeks, Mexico had its most promising outing ahead of the June 11 opener against South Africa at Soccer City.
Lippi had attached much importance to the game because Italy opens its Group F schedule June 14 against Paraguay, which is expected to play much like Mexico.
The result did not bode well for the Italians. Veteran Fabio Cannavaro and the inexperienced Bonucci were often hesitant at the heart of the defense against the agile Vela and Javier Hernandez. And up front, Italy's lone striker Alberto Gilardino only rarely forced the composed Mexicans into action.
While it is the defending champion, Italy is widely considered too old and without any top new players to be a title contender. Mexico, meanwhile, is vying to advance from Group A, where it faces France, Uruguay and host South Africa.
Having played against three top European nations, Mexico finally showed some poise, with youthful promise up front, and staunch defense led by Barcelona stalwart Rafael Marquez.
Italy faces Switzerland in Geneva on Saturday in its final friendly before flying to South Africa.
Besides Paraguay, Italy will also face New Zealand and Slovakia in Group F.
"The important thing is to be in form 10 days from now," Lippi said.
The match was played before 30,000 mostly Italy fans at the King Baudouin stadium.