Balotelli scores winner for Italy against Mexico

Rio de Janeiro, June 17 (IANS) Mario Balotelli struck a 77th-minute winner as Italy began their Confederations Cup football campaign with 2-1 victory over Mexico here at the packed Maracana Stadium.

On Sunday night in front of 70,000 fans at the Maracana, Balotelli ran onto Emanuele Giaccherini's delicate lob to slide the ball in between two defenders and goalkeeper Jose Corona, reports Xinhua.

Andrea Pirlo, in his 100th international appearance, scored Italy's first in the 27th minute by thumping a 25-meter free-kick that curled into the top-left corner.

Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez equalized seven minutes later, coolly converting a penalty after Giovani dos Santos was brought down by Andrea Barzagli.

Italy dominated the early possession in front of more than 70,000 fans at the Maracana stadium.

Balotelli was the protagonist with three shots on goal in the first 10 minutes.

The AC Milan forward's deft chip that narrowly flew over the crossbar was followed by two firmly struck attempts that were kept out by Corona.

Mexico responded by threatening on the counterattack and Andres Guardado was unlucky not to put his side ahead when his fizzing drive ricocheted off the crossbar.

Italy continued to assert their authority in the second half with Pirlo and, in particular, Giaccherini causing problems for Mexico's defence with his pace and vision.

Second-half substitute Raul Jimenez had a chance to equalize in injury time but his low shot from the edge of the area was parried clear by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.