Belo Horizonte, Brazil (PANA) - The famous Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro will be agog Sunday night (8pm Nigerian time) when Italy takes on Mexico in a match that has sold the highest number of tickets at the 2013 FIFA Confederation Cup, taking place in Brazil.
A PANA Correspondent, covering the tournament, reports that a record 71,407 tickets have been sold for that match. This is even higher than the number of tickets sold for the opening Brazil-Japan encounter.
Maracana stadium is noted for its enormous size and elegance and was at a time the largest stadium in the world, having also accommodated the biggest football crowd of over 100,000 at the final match of the 1950 World Cup.
It has since undergone massive renovation and remodelling and will for the first time open its bowels for the competitive Mexico vs Italy match.
Italy, the only continental runners-up at the 2013 FIFA Confederation Cup will be hoping to avoid not picking a point in Sunday's encounter with CONCAF champions, Mexico.
Their hope of advancing to the semi-finals strongly hinges on Sunday's result as a mishap for either teams may see the dream vanish in smoke after their encounter with the strongest favourites of Group A, Brazil.
Italy will draw confidence from their record against Mexico (the CONCACAF heavyweights), having lost just once to them in 11 games – a 2-1 friendly defeat in their last meeting in 2010.
But Mexico will also be keen to end their record of having conceded at least once in all those matches. Of late, Mexico have been having a miserable run in their last nine matches, winning only one, a 1-0 defeat of Jamaica, three days after a 2-2 draw with Nigeria in Houston.
Mexico may have therefore obtained the tag of home-draw specialists, having drawn eight of their last nine matches.
The Italian squad, popularly called the "Gli Azzurri", have come to the Confederation Cup with a sizeable number of untried players who struggled to a 2-2 draw with Haiti last Tuesday.
The team coach, Cesare Prandelli, will therefore anchor his offensive on the wing duo of Alessio Cerci and Antonio Candreva.
The two are expected to make valuable supplies to the rebuilding strike partnership of maverick Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy.
Coach Prandelli justifies the inclusion of relatively inexperienced players on the fact that his team is still a 'work in progress' side.
He said: "This competition will help us improve our team spirit even more, and it will also allow us to look at several players who could be useful in the future.
"We'll be starting against Mexico, who tends to play with lots of intensity, combining technique with speed. The Mexicans aren't here by mistake – they have quality in their team, particularly in attack."
On the other hand, Mexican Coach, Jose Manuel de la Torre, is expected to build his team's attacking strength on 25-year-old Javier Hernandez, Giovani dos Santos and Andres Guardado.
At the rear guard, the experiences of Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Salcido are expected to help.
Tradition may come in favour of the Mexicans. They are some of the recurring teams of the Confederation Cup as they are making their sixth appearance in nine editions.
More than just making up the number, the Mexicans have always been crowd-pleasers with their entertaining brand of football and their fans also invented the now globally famous 'Mexican Waves'.
Sunday's match will be Mexico's 20th game in the Confederation Cup that began in 1992 as Intercontinental Cup in Saudi Arabia. In the past 19 games they played in the competition, Mexico have scored 33 goals.
More than that, the goal scored by Mexico's Antonio "Zinha" Naelson against Japan in 2005 has been voted the best in FIFA Confederations Cup history by users of FIFA.com and the FIFA Channel on YouTube.
Mexico's best moment at the competition was on home soil in 1999 when they won the only FIFA Confederations Cup to be held in the CONCACAF region.
Their coach is optimistically looking forward to a repeat performance; even though he acknowledges that most observers feel that the Mexicans are not favourites.
"Whenever there's a tournament, you always think Italy, Spain or Brazil have a chance. But you can never afford to rule out the other teams. Football is evolving quickly, there's not such a big difference between international teams anymore," said the Mexican coach.
-0- PANA KS/VAO 16June2013