Craven Cottage, London
Italy 0 Ireland 0
Italy: Sirigu; De Sciglio, Bonucci, Paletta, Darmian; Marchisio, Thiago Motta, Montolivo; Verratti; Immobile, Rossi
Ireland: Forde; Ward, Pearce, O'Shea, Coleman; McGeady, Hendrick, Meyler, Pilkington; Hoolahan, Long
In the end, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was left without his captain for this particular night—and for the rest of the World Cup.
Riccardo Montolivo clashed with defender Alex Pearce, striking his left leg and leaving the game on a stretcher just 15 minutes into a scoreless draw between Italy and the Republic of Ireland. It was one of several friendlies before the big tournament.
Early reports suggested that the injury was serious, and those were later confirmed when a team doctor said, "It's what we feared for Montolivo, a broken tibia," per Giancarlo Rinaldi of Football Italia. Montolivo will miss the World Cup.
Alberto Aquilani came on as a substitute for Montolivo, but Aquilani then came off 23 minutes later after suffering what looked like a concussion.
It is a massive blow for Prandelli, who has included Montolivo in his squad since taking the job as coach of the Italian national team in 2010. The 29-year-old suffered with AC Milan as they finished eighth in Serie A this season, but he is influential when he plays for Italy. (Montolivo set up Mario Balotelli for one of his two goals in the semi-finals against Germany in the 2012 Euro Cup.)
Prandelli told Italian TV (h/t Football Italia):
Unfortunately the match was blighted by injuries. This evening it’s difficult to give a technical assessment of the performance. At the end of the first half it was difficult to talk about the match, considering the injuries to Montolivo and Aquilani. ... At the moment we are all dazed.
The game itself was just as rugged. For large parts of the 90 minutes, it was Ireland who looked like a team still vying for a spot in the World Cup, and frankly they deserved to win. The Irish attempted 16 shots and put seven on goal, per WhoScored.com. Midfielder Anthony Pilkington often danced around and caused problems at the edge of the box, while left-winger Aiden McGeady exploited the flanks and sent in cross after cross.
Ireland forward Shane Long had chances, too—one header met by the paws of Italy goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, who made seven saves.
When Italy did decide to attack for themselves, there was only Ciro Immobile up front. The Serie A scoring king made his first-ever appearance for the Azzurri, and he actually scored, picking up a low cross from the right. But he strayed offside.
The greatest threats, however, came from Giuseppe Rossi and Marco Verratti. The Fiorentina striker did not have a shot on goal, but he put together plays and dictated from a deeper role in midfield. Verratti was just as creative, slipping passes through defenders and lobbing the ball into space. Those two may have booked their tickets to Brazil.
The reality for Montolivo is a lot harsher, and questions still remain over the health of Aquilani. Prandelli must finalize his 23-man roster by Monday, 2 June. Those decisions aren't any easier.