LONDON (AFP) – Italy and Nigeria signed off for the year 2013 with a breathlessly entertaining 2-2 draw in a friendly international at Fulham’s Craven Cottage stadium in London on Monday.
The match came just two days after Nigeria secured qualification for the World Cup, but Stephen Keshi’s much-changed side showed great heart to hit back through Bright Dike and Shola Ameobi after Giuseppe Rossi had marked his international return by breaking the deadlock.
Italy equalised shortly after half-time through Emanuele Giaccherini, but despite the Azzurri twice hitting the frame of the goal in an occasionally frenetic second period, they were unable to avoid succumbing to a fourth consecutive draw.
Rossi and Mario Balotelli are seen as Italy’s first-choice front two in waiting and they provided an illustration of their potential as strike partners by combining for the opening goal in the 12th minute.
Balotelli brilliantly turned Azubuike Egwuekwe and fed the onrushing Rossi, who sharply readjusted his feet before lifting a right-foot shot past goalkeeper Austine Ejide.
It was Rossi’s first Italy goal since June 2011, after he spent 17 months on the sidelines due to a succession of knee injuries.
In response, Ogenyi Onazi tested Salvatore Sirigu’s reflexes with a 25-yard snapshot, but Italy continued to press, with Riccardo Montolivo going close and Ejide spreading himself well to block from Balotelli.
Nigeria were struggling to assert themselves as an attacking presence, but from nowhere they turned the game around with two goals in four minutes.
American-born Dike claimed the equaliser, climbing above Manuel Pasqual to nod home Ameobi’s inviting centre, and Ameobi got on the scoresheet himself moments later when he brilliantly converted Francis Benjamin’s cross with a near-post volley.
Ejide thwarted a pair of half-volleys from Balotelli either side of half-time, but he was beaten in the 47th minute when Antonio Candreva squared for Giaccherini to sweep home an equaliser from 12 yards.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli’s substitutions almost proved telling in the second half, with Marco Parolo shooting over after Ejide saved a free-kick from fellow entrant Andrea Pirlo and then hitting the post.
Alessio Cerci curled narrowly wide, as did Balotelli, but Nigeria’s substitutes also proved influential, with John Ogu drawing a fine save from Sirigu and Emmanuel Emenike hitting the side-netting.
Italy finished the game on top, but the closest they came to a winner in a frantic finale was an 85th-minute free-kick from Alessandro Diamanti that rattled the crossbar.