Claudio Marchisio’s early header was cancelled out late on by Maxime Chanot, as Italy could only draw 1-1 with Luxembourg.
Cesare Prandelli made eight changes from the team that drew 0-0 against Republic of Ireland last Saturday, with only Marco Verratti, Marchisio and Leonardo Bonucci keeping their places in the team.
The Coach named what some may consider his strongest back four and midfield for the game at Renato Curi in Perugia – as Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini were all welcomed in to the XI.
Mario Balotelli led the line on his own, with Antonio Candreva and Marchisio supporting the Milan man.
Their opponents meanwhile, were, by the looks of their initial formation, hoping to keep the score down by putting men behind the ball. Their 4-1-4-1 formation was more like a 4-5-1, with Aurelien Joachim valiantly leading the line on his own.
As expected, it was the Azzurri who got off to the brighter start, completely dominating possession against a team who sat 120th in the FIFA rankings. After Riccardo Montolivo’s World Cup-ending injury in the last friendly though, it was understandable that some of the players were being slightly tentative in the opening exchanges.
But it didn’t take long for the hosts to open their account for the night. Balotelli controlled a through ball on the right-hand side of the box before laying in Marchisio with a delightful cross. The Juventus man couldn’t miss, and planted a header past Anthony Moris from close-range.
Italy were in full-flow now, and almost doubled their lead soon after. A pass from Candreva found Balotelli, but a last-ditch challenge from Mario Mutsch ensured that the striker’s effort looped over the goalkeeper but also over the bar.
The visitors were showing brief glimpses of their quality, but with some of the best players in the world on show opposite them, it was always difficult for Luc Hlotz’s side to assert themselves.
Gianluigi Buffon was kept quiet, but at the other end Candreva was flagged as offside when racing through on goal.
All the chances were falling to the home team, but a mixture of poor finishing and good goalkeeping was keeping the scoreline in reach for Luxembourg. Balotelli, again, forced Moris into a save after Verratti’s pass inside the area.
And the Paris Saint-Germain youngster was at the heart of a good move again just before the interval. A great pass from the former Pescara midfielder found Candreva, but the Lazio attacker’s striker whistled just over the bar.
After the break, Mario was at it again. A nice move down the left ended with the Rossoneri goalscorer, but his shot was dragged wide of the post, much to the capacity crowd’s disappointment.
In defence, the Azzurri were holding strong, forcing the away team into speculative long-range efforts. Buffon kept his jersey clean, but did get his hands on one 30-yarder from Lars Gerson on the hour mark.
Still the frustrations were there for Balotelli, and his night went from bad to worse on 62 minutes. A pass from Antonio Cassano found the former Manchester City striker, and after composing himself, fired an effort off the crossbar.
And the woodwork was kept busy just moments later when Candreva’s flicked header bounced back off the bar, leaving the goalkeeper stranded.
Then came the inevitable friendly match changes, with the match becoming a scrappier affair as players tried to adapt to the pace of the game.
Still though, Italy were desperate to get that second goal. And it almost came with 10 minutes remaining. A cross from Lorenzo Insigne found Alberto Aquilani at the front post, but the former Liverpool midfielder couldn’t turn his effort inside the post.
Those players on the fringes of the starting XI were hoping to impress with the little minutes they were given – and it was Alessio Cerci who almost took this encounter beyond doubt with a rasping effort late on. The Torino winger cut in on his right foot, and forced the goalkeeper into a smart, low save.
That profligacy would come back to haunt the hosts with just four minutes remaining, as a Mario Mutsch corner found Chanot at the near post, and the Kortrijk defender was there to head in past Buffon for the equaliser.
Disbelief came over the Renato Curi as Italy failed to win for the second time in a row, with preparation for the World Cup not going quite to plan.
Italy 1-1 Luxembourg
Scorers: Marchisio 9 (I); Chanot 86 (L)
Italy: Buffon; Abate, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; De Rossi, Pirlo (Aquilani 72), Verratti (Cassano 54); Candreva (Cerci 77), Marchisio (Parolo 85); Balotelli (Insigne 77)
Luxembourg: Moris; Jans, Schnell, Chanot, Janisch; Philipps (Payal 65); Alves da Mota, Gerson, Mutsch, Bensi; Joachim
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