Mario Balotelli struck late on to give Italy a winning start to the FIFA Confederations Cup, as they overcame Mexico 2-1 in Rio de Janeiro.
Andrea Pirlo, on his 100th cap, opened the scoring with a picture-perfect free-kick, but Javier Hernandez levelled affairs from the penalty spot after he had been felled in the area by Andrea Barzagli.
But the Milan striker stole the headlines after a night that had seen him largely frustrated by Mexico goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona, latching on to Emanuele Giaccherini’s pass before tucking home.
Stephan El Shaarawy was the only absentee for Italy, an ankle injury sidelining the Milan forward so Claudio Marchisio began in support of Balotelli. Mexico were forced into changes in their midfield as Giovani dos Santos and Javier Aquino replaced Pablo Barrera and Aldo de Nigris.
Italy began the game the stronger as Claudio Marchisio broke down the left wing before rolling the ball to Balotelli in the six-yard box, but Corona flung himself in front of the effort to deny the 23-year-old.
The UEFA Euro 2012 were not dominant, however, and Gianluigi Buffon was called into a stunning save from Andres Guardado as the Valencia winger caught Dos Santos’ cut-back with a sweet effort, but the Italy captain did brilliantly to tip the ball onto the crossbar.
Cesare Prandelli’s side did take the lead though, as Pirlo curled an unstoppable 25-yard free-kick into Corona’s right-hand corner, and although the Mexico shot-stopper appeared to withdraw his hands from the save, he was well beaten.
However, the lead did not last long as Barzagli was robbed on the edge of the area by Dos Santos and, as the striker moved into the penalty area, bundled him over with referee Enrique Osses given little option but to award the spot-kick. Hernandez stepped up confidently and sent Buffon the wrong way to equalise and record his 33rd international goal.
After the break, neither side were able to create many clear-cut chances, but Riccardo Montolivo should have scored after Pirlo’s low free-kick rebounded his way in the six-yard box, but the Milan player could only prod straight to Corona.
Italy’s dominance of the match continued with Buffon a mere spectator in the second period and their pressure paid off with 12 minutes remaining as Balotelli secured the win.
The striker held off the challenge of Francisco Rodriguez on the edge of the penalty area to latch onto Giaccherini’s flick, he beat two defenders to the ball and thundered a strike past Corona.
Prandelli’s side saw out the game superbly and will take great confidence into their remaining Group A fixtures against Spain and Uruguay.