- Associated Press - Friday, June 21, 2013

SALVADOR, BrazilNeymar 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 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 winner 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.

Balotelli is a great player and he has been showing his qualities when plays for the Italian national team,” Brazil defender Daniel Alves said. “We will need to stay on alert the entire match to be able to defend well against him.”

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari also loudly praised the Italian striker.

“He is a very good player, very good,” Scolari said. “We are preparing ourselves to play against him, we need our defenders to be on alert. He is extraordinary, I would love to have him playing with us here in Brazil.”

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.”

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