RUSSIA PILED THE misery on troubled Italy with a deserved 3-0 victory here Friday in the final Euro 2012 warm-up for both teams.
Having had their only other friendly against Luxembourg cancelled on Tuesday due to an earthquake in the Emilia Romagna region, this was Italy coach Cesare Prandelli’s one chance to test his side before the European Championships begin next Friday in Poland and Ukraine.
He had hoped this game could give his team a chance to forget the fall-out from the ugly sports-betting Calcioscommesse match-fixing affair going on back home.
But goals from lively Zenit St Petersburg pair Alexander Kerzhakov and Roman Shirokov, with two, condemned the 2006 world champions to a third successive friendly defeat without finding the net and proved they have a lot of work to do if they are just to get out of a group containing Spain, Ireland and Croatia.
And yet there had been encouraging signs in the first period.
They may be a team apparently lacking in quality but two of their few genuine stars combined early on to show their worth.
If they are to have a chance at the Euros then a lot could depend on the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli linking up as they did on seven minutes here.
Pirlo’s pinpoint chip over the defence was controlled by the Manchester City forward on his chest as he ran into the box from an angle and his first time volley was well saved by goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
For all the talk about the lack of stars in the team, those two, alongside Antonio Cassano and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, are real in-form talents.
But Russia came closest to scoring in the first period as their busy forward pairing of Shirokov and Kerzhakov combined, with the latter hitting the post with a low volley.
Kerzhakov had another great chance but Shirokov got in his way as he went to pull the trigger and his effort flew high and wide.
Italy were a whisker away from the lead as Daniele De Rossi got behind the Russian defence after another marvellous ball from Pirlo and crossed for Balotelli but the young forward failed to get a decisive touch under pressure from a defender.
Russia were enjoying the greater number of chances but Konstantin Zyryanov fired wide and Buffon unconvincingly batted away Yuri Zhirkov’s effort at his near post.
Pirlo, whose vision had been a delight to behold, sent a free-kick just over the bar as the half came to a close.
Both sides changed their goalkeeper at half-time but it was Italy who twice carved open their opponents early in the second period, only for Cassano to volley off target and Claudio Marchisio scuffed his effort.
A cross from Baltoelli towards Cassano looked dangerous but Russia then went up the other end and hesitant defending from Italy allowed Shirokov to find the unmarked Kerzhakov 15 yards out to thrash home past a helpless Morgan De Sanctis on 59 minutes.
The Palermo stopper than had to tip over Andrey Arshavin’s cross which deflected goalwards off Cristian Maggio.
A host of substitutions disrupted the flow of the game but then a horror gaffe from Italy 15 minutes from time sealed Russia’s win.
With the ball running back to De Sanctis, Maggio left it for his keeper, who was slow to come out, allowing Arshavin to nip in and challenge.
De Sanctis just got there first but his clearance, from wide right, went into the centre of the box and straight to Shirokov who was left with a simple tap-in to the empty net.
And Shirokov added the third a minute from time after more woeful defending from Italy as Alexander Kokorin’s driven ball flew past three players before finding the strker alone in front of De Sanctis.
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Tonight’s results in full:
Mexico 2 – 1 Bosnia-H
Czech Rep. 1 – 2 Hungary
Austria 3 – 2 Ukraine
Italy 0 – 3 Russia