France hand young Italy fifth friendly defeat
Second-half substitute Bafetimbi Gomis scored a 68th minute winner as France prevailed 2-1 to consign Italy to their fifth consecutive friendly defeat on Wednesday.
AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy opened the scoring just after the half hour for the hosts only for France to level moments later thanks to a fine individual effort from Marseille forward Mathieu Valbuena. Gomis came on just after the hour to score and, though Italy battled for the remainder, Cesare Prandelli's side had to settle for their fifth friendly defeat since a 2-0 reverse in Poland a year ago.
France started with virtually the same team that secured a commendable 1-1 draw away to world and European champions Spain in a recent FIFA World Cup™ qualifier.
Prandelli, meanwhile, sent out a slightly experimental side as he continues his quest for a side capable of carrying their FIFA World Cup hopes to Brazil 2014. U-21 star Marco Varretti of Paris Saint Germain was handed his second cap, playing behind a front three composed of El Shaarawy and Lazio's Antonio Candreva on the other side of striker Mario Balotelli.
With directives from Prandelli for Italy to play more "vertically", it took Balotelli only six minutes to find an opening, only to send Candreva's through ball high over Hugo Lloris's net. The Manchester City striker came even closer on nine minutes when he first-timed El Shaarawy's lay-off against post and crossbar after Verratti's cross-field pass.
Italy had the momentum, and had the 20,000 home crowd going when Candreva, Riccardo Montolivo and Balotelli combined on the right and forced Mamadou Sakho into a desperate clearance.
Minutes later, Italy opened the scoring with a perfect example of what Prandelli has asked of his players. Balotelli fed Montolivo on the right side of midfield and the AC Milan midfielder sent in a perfect ball for El Shaarawy, who controlled and beat Lloris low from just inside the area.
Italy's joy was quickly curtailed, however. After a probing run down the left, Valbuena did well to hold off challenges deep on the left to stroll into the area and send a sublime curling shot into the far top corner.
Changes at the half
Prandelli made two substitutions at the start of the second half with Emanuele Giacchierini replacing Claudio Marchisio and Verratti making way for veteran campaigner Andrea Pirlo.
Italy started brightly and continued to keep pressing down the right, forcing Lloris into two early saves down low. However, France took a shock lead as Gomis stuck his foot out to prod home a cross-goal pass from Patrice Evra.
The goal galvanised France, and Gomis had a chance for his second minutes later, but after strolling across the area he hit a shot which Salvatore Sigiru, replacing Gianluigi Buffon, got down low to collect.
Both sides then made their last substitutions, with Yoann Gourcuff replacing Valbuena and Alessandro Diamanti replacing El Shaarawy.
Italy upped the tempo and Diamanti sent a promising ball to the far post from the right wing with Giacchierini just failing to make contact. Diamanti then ran on to Pirlo's cross down the right to send in an inviting ball that found no takers.
Moments later his free-kick from the right found the head of Balotelli, but the striker failed to make good contact. Italy's last real chance came with ten minutes remaining when Giaccherini missed a solid chance to level for the hosts from in front of goal when he mis-hit a short pass into the area.