Wednesday March 5 2014
Azzurri slender loss in Spain

Alessio Cerci hit the woodwork, but Pedro Rodriguez got the only goal as Spain beat Italy in a friendly.

Cesare Prandelli performed several experiments against the reigning World and European Champions, a side Italy hadn’t beaten in a friendly on Spanish soil since 1949. Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi were injured with Daniele De Rossi frozen out for breaking the code of ethics by elbowing a player in Roma-Inter. Parma’s Argentina-born defender Gabriel Paletta made his Azzurri debut, while Andrea Pirlo was rested and an all-new trident attack was tested out. Spain fielded Italy-born Brazilian Thiago Alcantara in midfield, while Javi Martinez went back into defence and Diego Costa received his Roja debut. Curiously, he had also made his Brazil debut in a friendly against Italy, but recently opted to change his allegiance to Spain.

This game was hosted by Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium, so Diego Costa felt right at home. There was a beautiful tribute to Luis Aragones before kick-off, the Euro 2008 winning Coach who died a month ago, as soprano Maria Cantarero sang an aria.

Within the opening minute Gigi Buffon had to close down Jordi Alba, who had run on to an Andres Iniesta slide-rule pass. Spain were playing in black with bright yellow trim, while the Azzurri had their classic blue jerseys.

However, Italy went even closer at the fourth when Alessio Cerci burst down the right and his cross-shot looped over Iker Casillas to thump the inside of the far post.

Cesc Fabregas volleyed wide under pressure from Buffon after pouncing on a deflected cross, then the goalkeeper punched away an Iniesta curler from the outside edge of the box. Fabregas ballooned over the bar from a promising position after peeling off Christian Maggio to meet a Cesar Azpilicueta cross.

Debutant Paletta did well to block a Diego Costa effort, but Italy had a great scoring opportunity on 28 minutes. Claudio Marchisio’s backheel flick allowed his Juventus teammate Daniel Osvaldo to burst through the middle, his finish just wide.

Zenit defender Domenico Criscito was booked before half-time for his clumsy failed attempt to stop Pedro.

Andrea Pirlo, Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate came on after the restart as Italy moved to a diamond midfield. Spain introduced Xabi Alonso, David Silva and goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

Buffon was decisive, rushing off his line to deflect Thiago Alcantara’s effort wide when he was sent one-on-one by David Silva. The Manchester City star then drilled off target himself moments later.

Cerci’s shot was smothered by substitute Victor Valdes, while Paletta was again impressive putting pressure on Diego Costa and David Silva to force their mistakes on counter-attacks.

Spain took the lead in fortunate fashion, as David Silva was blocked off by Paletta’s sliding tackle to cut out Iniesta’s assist, but the ball fell to Pedro who quickly fired in and the shot squirmed under Buffon’s body.

Moments later a free kick was flicked at the back post by Paletta and the deflection took it on to the roof of the net from point-blank range.

Torino striker Ciro Immobile made his senior Italy debut and his volley at Valdes was futile as he had strayed offside. He also hesitated and allowed Raul Albiol to block his path when ready to go clear.

Diego Costa’s strike flashed across the face of goal and David Silva again did well to set up Santi Cazorla for a shot deflected over by Abate. Italy had a fantastic chance in stoppages, but a desperate diving header stopped Pirlo's corner reaching Mattia Destro at the back post.

Spain also threatened a second, but Buffon palmed a Jesus Navas snapshot over the bar.

Spain 1-0 Italy

Scorers: Pedro 64 (S)

Spain: Casillas (Valdes 46); Azpilicueta, Javi Martinez, Sergio Ramos (Raul Albiol 65), Alba; Busquets (Xabi Alonso 46), Thiago Alcantara; Pedro (Santi Cazorla 82), Fabregas (Silva 46), Iniesta (Jesus Navas 65); Diego Costa

Italy: Buffon; Maggio (Abate 46), Paletta, Barzagli, Criscito (De Sciglio 46); Marchisio, Thiago Motta (Giaccherini 62), Montolivo; Candreva (Pirlo 46), Osvaldo (Immobile 69), Cerci (Destro 69)

Ref: Aranovskyi (UKR)