Italy fell to a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Russia in their Euro 2012 warm-up, which showed some big problems in defence and a Gigi Buffon injury. It was the third consecutive loss without scoring a goal.
The only pre-Euro 2012 friendly was in Zurich, as Tuesday’s game with Luxembourg was cancelled due to the earthquake that struck the Emilia-Romagna region. Cesare Prandelli had lost Domenico Criscito due to the betting scandal, as he was officially placed under investigation, but Leonardo Bonucci started in defence.
Giorgio Chiellini is nursing a thigh strain, though the big changes were in attack, as Riccardo Montolivo supported Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano. The only time this pair played together was 59 minutes in Prandelli’s first match in August 2010 against the Ivory Coast. Dick Advocaat’s Russia have also qualified for Euro 2012 and had the second best defensive record behind Italy, conceding only four goals.
In a curious new rule, if the friendly ended in a draw, the ‘winner’ would be the team with the fewest cards.
Daniele De Rossi prodded wide after an early give-and-go with Cassano, but after seven minutes Andrea Pirlo’s ball over the top allowed Balotelli to perform a chest and volley that Vyacheslav Malafeev palmed out from under the bar.
However, moments later Russia hit the outside of the upright with Aleksandr Kerzhakov’s snapshot from the edge of the box.
Italy went on the counter and De Rossi’s low angled drive was parried, while Roman Shirokov side-footed over when he probably should’ve kept it on target. From a corner, Alan Dzagoev’s volley into the ground bounced over.
Balotelli and Montolivo had shots charged down and as the move continued De Rossi sprung the offside trap to roll across the face of goal, but SuperMario was just unable to make contact as he came sliding in.
Russia found space in attack, but their finishing left something to be desired, as Konstantin Zyryanov blasted over from a very promising position. Moments later Zyryanov again wasted with a scuffed daisy-cutter that skimmed a coat of paint off the base of the upright.
Dzagoev had acres of space just inside the box, but turned between defenders for a shot deflected off target. From that corner, Buffon had his palms stung at the near post by a Yuri Zhirkov volley into the ground.
Pirlo’s free kick skimmed the crossbar, then Montolivo’s audacious overhead kick went wide. Buffon picked up a slight problem with his right shoulder and made way for Morgan De Sanctis at half-time.
Balotelli nodded over, then provided a splendid assist for Cassano’s chest and volley just off target. Claudio Marchisio had a sensational scoring opportunity soon after, but thought he was offside from De Rossi’s pass and only scuffed it into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Pirlo fired wide of the near post after Cassano pulled back to the edge of the box. Cassano then failed to tap in a powerful Balotelli cross from the right.
However, it was Russia who scored on the counter-attack, as once again there was far too much space in the penalty area and Kerzhakov was able to thump a low drive into the near bottom corner.
De Sanctis had to flap a deflected Andrey Arshavin cross out of the near top corner from point-blank range. Igor Akinfeev rushed off his line to clear a long Bonucci pass off the feet of Balotelli.
Prandelli made numerous substitutions, playing with Sebastian Giovinco on the right, Antonio Di Natale in the centre and Balotelli on the left of a 4-3-3.
Di Natale’s strike was well held, but Russia doubled their lead thanks to a huge defensive howler. Christian Maggio was slow in shepherding the ball under pressure from Arshavin, De Sanctis rushed off his line to clear, but it was deflected straight into the path of Shirokov to pass into an empty net.
It was almost 3-0 in the final minutes, as Zhirkov was totally unmarked down the left, but Antonio Nocerino dived in for a crucial sliding block.
The third did arrive, as Kokorin’s wayward angled drive was misread by Maggio and looped up to become an assist for Shirokov to tap in.
Balotelli tried to threaten with a header at the back post smothered and Akinfeev flying to palm his strike out from under the bar.
Italy 0-3 Russia
Scorers: Kerzhakov 59 (R), Shirokov 75, 87 (R)
Italy: Buffon (De Sanctis 46); Maggio, Barzagli, Bonucci, Balzaretti (Ogbonna 53); De Rossi (Thiago Motta 60), Pirlo (Giovinco 68), Marchisio; Montolivo (Nocerino 60); Cassano (Di Natale 68), Balotelli
Russia: Malafeev (Akinfeev 46); Nababkin, Berezutski, Ignashevich, Zhirkov (Kombarov 86); Shirokov, Denisov, Zyryanov; Dzagoev (Kokorin 85), Arshavin, Kerzhakov (Pavlyuchenko 62)
Ref: Haenni (Swi)