Maranello, 21 June – Italy v Brazil is one of the most evocative football matches in the world, not least because the teams on the pitch have won more World Cups than anyone else (four for the Europeans, five for the South Americans). It is also a special match for anyone with a double passport who has spent his sporting career with Italy’s other outstanding sporting team, Ferrari. We’re talking about Felipe Massa, who was born and brought up in Brazil but has grandparents from Cerignola in Puglia in the south of Italy.
With little more than 24 hours to go before the match in Salvador we met up with Felipe, who was in Maranello for a session in the simulator ahead of the British Grand Prix: this time there was no talk of Formula 1, just football.
“I will be supporting Brazil, absolutely no doubt!” said Felipe. “I’m Brazilian, I was born in Brazil: it’s true that my family has Italian roots and that’s why when Brazil aren’t playing I support the Italian Azzurri. Italy is my second favourite country to be – obviously after Brazil.”
The Ferrari driver has faith in the potential of the team managed by Felipe Scolari: “We have a good group of players who are young and on the way up. My favourite is Neymar: I think his moment is coming, he’s playing very well. The Confederations Cup is an excellent test ahead of next year’s World Cup: that is the most important date for every footballing nation – even more so for whoever’s hosting it, like us this time. In the World Cup you never know who can win it: we hope to be up there with the best teams fighting for the trophy.”
Italy have played Brazil five times in the World Cup but Felipe has only seen one of them live, the last one: “I remember the final of USA 94 very well, that day when Roberto Baggio gave us a big hand,” says Felipe with his tongue in his cheek. “In 1982 I was too small, little more than a year old, but I know how much that defeat in Barcelona made our fans suffer: that Brazil team was truly a great team, full of exceptional players.”
Asked about which Italian player he would most like to snatch from Prandelli, Felipe has a clear idea: “Pirlo! I really like him and he’s a great player; in his position on the pitch he can have a major impact on the game. We have good attackers and a solid defence but perhaps we’re missing something in the midfield. Balotelli? He is also a great talent but when it comes to strikers I’m happy with the players we have!” But Felipe won’t have to worry about Pirlo, at least not tomorrow evening: an injury to his right calf muscle means the Juventus midfielder will miss Saturday’s game.
The Confederations Cup is also becoming the stage for a growing movement of protests that is gradually getting the whole South American country involved. Felipe, who is not someone who pretends to live in a bubble far removed from the real world, has a precise opinion about the situation: “I like this movement because I think that in our country there are so many things that must improve, especially for the people. Obviously I am against any kind of violence from any side. We must hope that these protests serve as a stimulus to the politicians to make the right choices: Brazil is an enormous country, which has made giant steps in certain sectors but which still has a very long way to grow in others.”