Italy struggles but draws 1-1 with Romania

Italy struggled with its experimental lineup but managed to draw

1-1 with Romania in a friendly Wednesday marred by racist taunts

directed at Azzurri forward Mario Balotelli.

Stuttgart striker Ciprian Marica scored for Romania in the 34th

minute, finding the net from the edge of the box after the ball

bounced between defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Federico

Balzaretti.

Marica then scored an own goal in the 82nd, diverting the ball

into his own net following a corner from Andrea Pirlo. Italy

substitute Fabio Quagliarella also appeared to head the ball

slightly before Marica’s decisive touch.

Balotelli, who was born in Italy but is of Ghanian descent, was

booed every time he touched the ball, with the taunts coming from a

group of about 100 extreme right-wing Italian fans at the match in

Austria.

”If I have to talk about this every time I play I can’t go on,

let the others play,” Balotelli said. ”These people need to

change but that’s not up to me.”

Fans also taunted Italy midfielder Cristian Ledesma, who was

born in Argentina and made his first appearance for the Azzurri,

with chants and a banner that read, ”No to a multiethnic

Italy.”

”I don’t know those people, all I can say to them is that where

I live, in Brescia, a multiethnic Italy already exists,” Balotelli

said.

Italian police at the match identified 41 fans for holding up

the banner and then stopped one 20-year-old Italian supporter

outside the stadium for hitting an Austrian fan in the face,

according to the ANSA news agency.

”This national team is open to anyone who is an Italian

citizen,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. ”This is a very sad

story. We need to remember that this is the country from which

millions of people emigrated over the last century.

”I gave Balotelli a hug (when he exited in the second half) and

next time we all will,” Prandelli added.

Italian Football Federation president Giancarlo Abete called the

fans’ behavior ”unacceptable.”

Four starters for Italy were making their debuts and the Azzurri

produced only one shot on goal before Prandelli sent on regulars

Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Alberto Gilardino to start the second

half.

”We came up against a very aggressive squad,” Prandelli said.

”In the second half we worked harder and found more spaces.”

Romania captain Cristian Chivu exited with a muscle problem in

the 16th, and with Adrian Mutu unavailable due to a pulled muscle,

the Romanians were without their two top players.

Still, the team appeared more organized than Italy and the

Azzurri didn’t manage a shot on goal until Balotelli dribbled past

two defenders in the 45th minute and slid a low shot at goalkeeper

Costel Pantilimon.

Gilardino came close to scoring in the 48th and 49th, first with

a sharply angled shot that Pantilimon had no trouble handling and

then with a difficult volley that found the net but was ruled out

for offside.

Quagliarella missed a bicycle kick in the 63rd and Alberto

Aquilani sent a long shot directly at the goalkeeper in the

69th.

De Rossi limped off with an apparent leg injury in the 78th.

With goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon still recovering from back

surgery and Prandelli resting several other regular starters,

Giuseppe Rossi wore the captain’s armband for Italy. However, the

United States-born forward struggled to make any sort of

contribution and was substituted after the first half in favor of

Gilardino.

”It was really exciting to wear the armband, but there was a

bit of confusion on the pitch in the first half,” Rossi said.

With only about 3,000 fans showing up on a rainy night, the

HypoArena stadium was mostly empty.

Romania: Costel Pantilimon, Gabriel Tamas, Cristian Chivu (Dorin

Goian, 16), Cornel Rapa, Razvan Rat, Gabriel Torje (Cristian

Tanase, 57), George Florescu, Adrian Ropotan, Ciprian Deac, Ciprian

Marica, Bogdan Stancu.

Italy: Emiliano Viviano, Davide Santon (Mattia Cassani, 49),

Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Ranocchia, Federico Balzaretti, Alberto

Aquilani, Cristian Ledesma (Daniele De Rossi, 46; Giampaolo

Pazzini, 78), Stefano Mauri, Alessandro Diamanti (Andrea Pirlo,

46), Giuseppe Rossi (Alberto Gilardino, 46), Mario Balotelli (Fabio

Quagliarella, 59).