Giuseppe Rossi scored after starting his first international match since 2011 and Emanuele Giaccherini, Bright Dike and Shola Ameobi also tallied as Italy and Nigeria played to an entertaining 2-2 draw at London’s Craven Cottage.
FT: Italy 2-2 Nigeria. This has been some game. Both teams winners here. Great game #KONUpdate— Kick Off Nigeria (@KickOff_Nigeria) November 18, 2013
Rossi, who began the encounter up top with Mario Balotelli, needed only 12 minutes to get his goal—chipping the ball over Nigeria goalkeeper Austin Ejide after Balotelli, having held off his marker, slipped the ball to him on the swivel inside the 18-yard box.
Nigeria, however, were keen to reply quickly and quite nearly equalized when Italy keeper Salvatore Sirigu was forced into making a spectacular save to deny Ogenyi Onazi’s long-range screamer just a minute after Rossi’s opener
Riccardo Montolivo was next to get a quality goalscoring opportunity.
Sunderland’s Giaccherini did ever so well to find the AC Milan midfielder on the run, but after skipping past Ndamdi Oduamadi, the 28-year-old just couldn’t hit the target.
By now, the Super Eagles were beginning to impose themselves and got a well-deserved equalizer in the 35th minute when Toronto FC’s Dike out-jumped Manuel Pasqual to head the ball into the back of the net following Ameobi’s well-placed cross from the left.
Ameobi then gave Nigeria the lead only four minutes later when his one-touch effort from Victor Moses’ pass left Sirigu with no chance.
Trailing at the break, Italy were back on level terms almost immediately after the restart.
Each of Balotelli, Rossi and Antonio Candreva were involved in a lovely piece of buildup play that put Giaccherini into scoring position, and the former Juventus man made no mistake from in close.
Over the next few minutes, both managers took the opportunity to make several substitutions—one of which was the introduction of Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo, whose entry into the match represented his 107th appearance for the Azzurri.
On the stroke of the hour mark, Pirlo quite nearly made his presence felt when his floated free-kick found fellow substitute Marco Parolo, only for Ejide to deny him with an impressive save.
Oooh! Pirlo free kick, stunning save, but Parolo turns follow-up over from 6 yards! #ItalyNigeria— footballitalia (@footballitalia) November 18, 2013
Just seconds later, the unlucky Parolo hit the woodwork with a hard shot. Before the final whistle, Alessandro Diamanti would strike the crossbar from distance.
However, Nigeria had their chances to retake the lead as well—John Ogu and Ahmed Musa testing Sirigu with ferocious attempts within moments of one another.
Key Player Grades
Mario Balotelli: A
He didn’t get his name on the scoresheet, but the AC Milan striker played the full 90 minutes at Craven Cottage and earned an assist on Rossi’s opener before beginning the sequence of buildup that led to Giaccherini’s equalizer.
According to WhoScored.com, he touched the ball 51 times, drew a handful of fouls in the attacking third and was a persistent threat to the Nigeria defense.
Giuseppe Rossi: A
He showed considerable bravery in rushing headlong into Ejide before scoring the first goal of the match and seemed to combine well with Balotelli up top. It seems as though manager Cesare Prandelli might have struck on his strike partnership for the 2014 World Cup.
Shola Ameobi: A
The Newcastle striker scored once and assisted on another in an impressive performance for Nigeria.
With first-choice forwards Emmanuel Emenike and Brown Ideye on the bench to start the match, the 32-year-old took his opportunity and could have nailed down a spot for himself in the Super Eagles’ World Cup squad.
Both nations will be involved in next month’s World Cup group stage draw. Italy will be placed in Pot 2 and Nigeria in Pot 4.