Recife: There were less than 20 minutes left to play here Friday when a bundle of three balloons - red, white and green, the colors of Italy's flag - floated down from the stands and onto the field.
The balloons snaked slowly around the center circle, past several players who were jogging to join play on the far end of the field. But when the bundle glided into the path of Mario Balotelli, the enigmatic and hugely talented Italian striker, he stopped. Balotelli fixed the balloons at his feet and proceeded to stomp his spikes onto them, one by one, until there were only bits of latex left littered on the grass.
As a metaphor, as a poetic image, it was almost too perfect.