Stephan El Shaarawy’s first goal for Italy was not enough, as France fought back to win 2-1 in Parma and the Azzurri hit the crossbar twice. It means Italy have now lost their last five friendly matches.
Cesare Prandelli adopted an experimental 4-3-3 system for this international friendly at the sold out Stadio Tardini in Parma. PSG players Marco Verratti and Salvatore Sirigu started along with Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli. Didier Deschamps had to do without Karim Benzema, so Mathieu Valbuena, Olivier Giroud and Franck Ribery were the front three.
Mamadou Sakho struggled to dribble clear inside his own box under pressure from Balotelli, but after nine minutes the Azzurri went so close to an opener. El Shaarawy knocked down a long ball for Balotelli, whose screamer from 20 metres cracked against the corner of the crossbar.
Sirigu smothered a long-range Valbuena snapshot and a Riccardo Montolivo backheel flick was intercepted before Candreva could shoot from Balotelli’s cross.
A corner came out to Candreva, who drilled well wide of the near post, and Moussa Sissoko blasted high over the bar.
Italy took the lead on 35 minutes with El Shaarawy’s debut senior goal for the Azzurri. Andrea Barzagli’s long pass was flicked on by Balotelli for Montolivo, who threaded through for El Shaarawy to draw out and beat Hugo Lloris.
The advantage lasted only a couple of minutes, as Valbuena scored a sensational equaliser. He got away from Verratti and Barzagli down the left and curled a fantastic finish into the far top corner from a tight angle.
Lloris smothered a long-range strike from Lazio midfielder Candreva and the Azzurri pinned France back for the final minutes of the first half.
Prandelli made numerous changes for the second half, giving 21-year-old Roma midfielder Florenzi his senior debut, but did not perform the experiment of Verratti and Andrea Pirlo playing together.
Lloris blocked a Candreva angled drive at the end of a long Italy move and Candreva’s diving header whistled wide from a Christian Maggio cross, as the Lazio man had also started the move.
Balotelli was booked for raised studs on Laurent Koscielny, but France took the lead for the first time in this game with substitute Bafetimbi Gomis. Jeremy Menez got down the left and pulled back for Patrice Evra, who carried it on to the back post where Gomis came sliding in undisturbed. Italy’s defence protested for an offside flag, but the position was correct.
Sebastian Giovinco replaced Candreva and was given a warm welcome by the Parma crowd. Gomis also tested Sirigu from distance with a daisy-cutter, while at the other end Alessandro Diamanti’s whipped in cross got a glance off Balotelli’s head and Giovinco just failed to get the tap-in as he came sliding in at the back post.
A Pirlo free kick was nodded over by Balotelli, who felt he was being pulled back, but they were wrestling each other.
Giovinco unleashed an absolute blockbuster from 30 metres away that Lloris managed to flap away with his trailing hand. Balotelli had a shot charged down after a defensive error, but Menez then surged forward on the counter and was denied by a Sirigu save with his knee that moved the angled drive inches past the far stick.
Italy were unlucky not to equalise on 86 minutes, as the ball was rolled in for Emanuele Giaccherini unmarked and he fired it on to the underside of the crossbar from 10 yards!
Italy 1-2 France
Scorers: El Shaarawy 35 (I), Valbuena 37 (F), Gomis 67 (F)
Italy: Sirigu; Maggio, Barzagli (Bonucci 46), Chiellini, Balzaretti; Montolivo (Florenzi 50), Verratti (Pirlo 50), Marchisio (Giaccherini 50); Candreva (Giovinco 70), Balotelli, El Shaarawy (Diamanti 73)
France: Lloris; Debuchy (Reveillere 46), Sakho, Koscielny, Evra; Capoue (Gonalons 84), Matuidi, Sissoko (Tremoulinas 90); Valbuena (Gourcuff 73), Giroud (Menez 64), Ribery (Gomis 64)
Ref: Mallenco (SPA)