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Balotelli 'could make world's top five'

Italy striker's stunning equaliser upstaged Neymar

Balotelli 'could make world's top five'

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, March 22 - Mario Balotelli could become one of the world's five top players, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said after the young AC Milan striker upstaged Brazil ace Neymar with a stunning equaliser and all-round impressive display in Italy's 2-2 friendly draw with Brazil in Geneva Thursday. "He could become one of the top five players in the world," said coach Cesare Prandelli after the AC Milan striker's 25-yard scorcher in the 57th minute pulled the Azzurri level after they went 2-0 down in the first half. "Balo played like a champion, now he just has to find consistency," said the coach, who called the come-from-behind draw against the five-time world champions "one of the best matches since I became Italy manager (in 2010)". The other goal for four-time World Cup winners Italy came three minutes before Balotelli's, from Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi. It had looked as though Italy would pay for their missed opportunities when Brazil took a 2-0 lead at half-time thanks to goals from Fred and Oscar. Balotelli said Friday: "What a goal, I want to dedicate it to a singer friend of mine". He praised Neymar, frequently named among the world's best players, saying "he's brilliant". Asked what mark he would give himself for his performance, the 22-year-old ex-Inter and Manchester City striker said "six (out of 10) for the goal, because I missed too many chances in front of goal". He said he liked the 4-3-3 formation Italy employed in the second half because it was the same Milan used. Prandelli, whose side now face Malta in a World Cup qualifier Tuesday, added "we have to get our energy back for the Malta game". Italy lead European World Cup qualifying group B with 10 points from four games, four points more than second-placed Bulgaria. Before the Brazil game, Prandelli and his players said they were regarding it as a test for the Confederations Cup later this year and hoping to improve their reputation for 'not turning up' in friendlies. Italy have lost only one competitive match under Prandelli, the 4-0 defeat to Spain in the final of Euro 2012. But their record in friendlies has continued to be poor, losing seven out of the 13 non-competitive matches played under him and winning just three. Juve playmaker Andrea Pirlo had said there was no danger Italy would take the friendly against Brazil in Geneva lightly. Indeed, the midfielder who stood out at Euro 2012 said he and his teammates were treating the game as a major test ahead of next year's World Cup. "You don't take on Brazil every day, it's not a normal match. "It may turn out to be fundamental for our development and to be able to understand where we are at in view of the Confederations Cup (later this year) and the World Cup (in 2014 in Brazil)". Prandelli said this week that he wants his side to take this June's Confederations Cup as a serious test. The Cup, which takes place the year before a World Cup in the host nation and features the world champions and the continental champions, is not considered a major tournament. But Italy's failure at the 2009 Confederations Cup proved to be a foretaste of the then-holder's embarrassing group-stage exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. "Italy often do not play well in friendlies," added Pirlo. "We are never our best (in them), but this time we'll try to do well, in part thinking of the fans. This Italy team is coming on and I think we are among the top 10 (in the world)". Prandelli has rejuvenated the Azzurri since taking over and got them to play an attractive attacking style that contrasts with the nation's traditional defensive approach. Pirlo is one of the few veterans from Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning team still in the national team. Italy, who have qualified for the Confederations Cup as Euro 2012 runners-up because Spain already had a slot as they are the world champs, are currently fifth in FIFA's world ranking, while Brazil are a lowly 18th. "They (Brazil) are the best national team in the world in purely technical terms," Prandelli said.

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