Giuseppe Rossi and Emanuele Giaccherini were on target as Italy scrambled a 2-2 draw with Nigeria in an entertaining friendly.
This was a World Cup warm-up for both sides at Craven Cottage, as the Super Eagles booked their ticket on Saturday by beating Ethiopia in the play-offs. Rossi recovered from tonsillitis to partner Mario Balotelli, the first choice strike pairing for the World Cup, while the revamped side included PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and Angelo Ogbonna, whose parents emigrated to Italy from Nigeria. Cesare Prandelli celebrated his 50th match in charge of the Azzurri, the fourth consecutive draw.
An early Victor Moses free kick curled wide, but the forwards combined brilliantly for the opening goal. Balotelli held up the ball and threaded it through for Rossi to chip the on-rushing goalkeeper. The Fiorentina hitman put his mark on the game and showed bravery in the one-on-one despite two years out with injury. It was his first Azzurri goal since facing Estonia in June 2011.
Godfrey Oboabona’s tackle on Balotelli was clean, yet hard, then Sirigu had his palms stung by Lazio midfielder Eddy Onazi’s screamer. Brescia’s Nnamdi Oduamadi threw himself at a Balotelli curler to turn it wide from the edge of the box.
Prandelli had said he wanted Italy to move the ball around quicker and they certainly started with that message, as Riccardo Montolivo prodded wide after a rapid give-and-go with Sunderland’s Emanuele Giaccherini.
Montolivo surged forward through the middle and spread to the right for Balotelli, whose angled drive forced a great one-handed save from Austin Ejide.
Germany had scored with a header on Friday and Nigeria did the same, as Bright Dike rose above Manuel Pasqual – possibly with a shove in the back – to nod in Shola Ameobi’s cross from the left.
Moments later, Moses was given space to run forward, but his shot was deflected wide off Andrea Ranocchia.
It was only a warning, as Ameobi got between centre-backs for a splendid volley at the near post to turn the game around completely. As with against Germany, Italy seemed to let their heads and the tempo drop considerably after conceding.
Balotelli performed a remarkable flick on the turn between three players and his volley caused real problems for Ejide.
Straight after the restart Francis Benjamin flew in with a crucial sliding tackle on Balotelli in the six-yard box and from the resulting corner Super Mario tested Ejide again.
Italy got back on level terms with a well-worked move, as Balotelli and Rossi combined before Antonio Candreva rolled across for Giaccherini in acres of space to blast in with the inside of his right foot. It was his third Azzurri strike.
A free kick flashed across the face of goal and John Ogu’s header was just wide from a corner. Prandelli made a treble substitution, giving Parma midfielder Marco Parolo only his second cap, the other being in March 2011.
Parolo could’ve scored within five minutes of coming on, but incredibly turned the follow-up over an open goal from six yards after Ejide acrobatically parried an Andrea Pirlo free kick. Moments later, his low drive cracked the base of the upright with a slight deflection.
Egwueke flew to intercept a cross that Balotelli was shaping up to volley in. Goalkeeper Ejide suffered a knee injury during that move and had to make way for first choice Vincent Enyeama.
Alessio Cerci flashed a shot across the face of goal – a little too powerful to act as an assist for Balotelli – while the Milan striker curled just past the far top corner on an Alessandro Diamanti cross-field assist.
Ogu was about to score with a fierce strike from 25 metres, but Sirigu flew to punch it out of the top corner. Moments later the PSG goalkeeper got down quickly to push an Ahmed Musa effort off the line and Emmanuel Emenike hit the side-netting.
Balotelli had a fantastic chance to score, but seemed surprised the Cristian Maggio ball had come through and hit a fresh-air shot from four yards. Parolo’s attempt was deflected over from close range, but Diamanti went even closer with a trademark free kick that thumped the crossbar with Enyeama rooted to the spot.
Enyeama palmed away another attempt from Parolo and a couple of Diamanti snapshots, as Italy kept pushing to the final whistle. Deep into stoppages, Cerci's pass flashed across the face of goal with Balotelli just unable to tap in.
Italy 2-2 Nigeria
Scorers: Rossi 12 (I), Dike 35 (N), Ameobi 39 (N), Giaccherini 47 (I)
Italy: Sirigu; Maggio, Ranocchia, Ogbonna, Pasqual; Thiago Motta (Pirlo 53), Montolivo (Parolo 53), Giaccherini (Poli 76); Candreva (Cerci 65); Rossi (Diamanti 53), Balotelli
Nigeria: Ejide (Enyeama 65); Oboabona, Kwambe, Egwuekwe, Benjamin; Onazi, Mikel; Oduamadi (Ogu 46), Dike (Musa 64), Moses (Ideye 76); Ameobi (Emenike 64)
Ref: Atkinson (ENG)
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