Balotelli fires Italy to 2-0 win in Poland

Mario Balotelli scored his first international goal with a

spectacular long-range strike to help Italy beat European

Championship co-host Poland 2-0 in a friendly Friday and ease the

Azzurri’s attacking woes.

Balotelli received the ball about 40 yards (35 meters) from goal

and spotted Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny off his line,

taking a few steps forward before beating him with a dipping

long-range effort.

It was the Manchester City striker’s first goal in six

internationals and comes at a timely moment with starting forwards

Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano out with long-term injuries.

Rossi had knee surgery last week and Cassano is recovering from

heart surgery, with both players expected to be out for up to six

months. Their chances of recovering in time for next summer’s Euro

2012 are slim.

But their replacements in the starting lineup both scored, with

Giampaolo Pazzini doubling Italy’s advantage in the second half.

Pazzini dedicated his goal to Cassano.

”This great display by Balotelli counts for a lot because even

aside from the goal, Mario played a great game,” Italy coach

Cesare Prandelli said. ”Compliments to him and the team.”

Pazzini issued a warning about putting too much pressure on the

21-year-old.

”Mario scored a great goal and I scored an important one for

me,” Pazzini said. ”We’re getting better and better as we’re

approaching the Euros. These games are important to try out certain

things and we were clinical in taking our chances.

”We shouldn’t burden Balotelli with too much responsibility.

There’s a lot of expectation around him but that could damage

him.”

Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski missed a penalty five

minutes from time.

”Once again we didn’t concede,” Prandelli added. ”Poland

started strongly but we contained them and then we found our

balance in certain areas.”

Franciszek Smuda’s team has greatly improved since a 6-0

drubbing at the hands of Spain in June 2010 and had lost just twice

in its last 15 matches heading into the game.

And it was Poland which had the first chance of the match, in

the opening minute, as a dangerous looking ball was floated into

the box, but headed clear by Ignazio Abate, who was making his

international debut.

Poland looked threatening on the counterattack and it was from

yet another one of those that Domenico Criscito brought down Jakub

Blaszczykowski on the edge of the area, but the free kick was

blasted straight into the Italy wall.

The home side went even closer in the 13th as Slawomir Peszko

beat the offside trap and raced into the area only to send his

effort wide.

Italy, clearly missing Cassano and Rossi, had to wait until the

16th minute for its first sight of goal as Pazzini darted clear,

but Damien Perquis caught up with him in the nick of time.

Italy was getting better, however, and should have gone in front

in the 19th minute as a cross found Daniele De Rossi unmarked

inside area. The Roma player could have shot but tried to pass to

Pazzini and Poland cleared the danger.

After that good spell, Italy almost shot itself in the foot

shortly afterward, when Gianluigi Buffon – playing his 111th game

for his country – made a rare error. The Juventus goalkeeper

flapped at a corner and Robert Lewandowski got a header in, but it

hit the wrong side of the post.

Blaszczykowski threatened again in the 29th as he forced his way

into the box but Italy managed to scramble the ball away.

Italy took the lead moments later as Balotelli took advantage of

Szczesny’s poor positioning.

Prandelli’s team improved greatly after the break and should

have doubled its lead early in the second half when Montolivo found

Balotelli unmarked in the area, only for the youngster to head wide

of the far post.

Poland could have equalized in the 55th minute but Eugen

Polanski fired his effort narrowly past the left upright. Instead,

Italy doubled its lead on the hour mark. Simone Pepe flicked on

Balotelli’s through ball to Pazzini, and the Inter Milan striker

slotted it past Szczesny, who should have done better.

The Arsenal goalkeeper atoned somewhat for his error in the 67th

minute when Alessandro Matri raced clear from the halfway line and

found himself one on one with the Poland goalkeeper, who managed to

get a foot to the shot and deflect it to safety.

Poland had a chance to get back into the game in the 85th minute

when it was awarded a generous penalty after a shoulder-to-shoulder

challenge between Andrea Ranocchia and Lewandowski.

However, Blaszczykowski blasted his spot kick straight at Buffon

who saved comfortably.

Lineups:

Poland: Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Piszczek, Damien Perquis

(Marcin Wasilewski, 67), Jakub Wawrzyniak, Eugen Polanski (Adam

Matuszczyk, 65), Rafal Murawski (Dariusz Dudka, 80), Jakub

Blaszczykowski, Ludovic Obraniak (Pawel Brozek, 56), Slawomir

Peszko (Adrian Mierzejewski, 67), Robert Lewandowski.

Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Ignazio Abate, Andrea Ranocchia,

Giorgio Chiellini, Domenico Criscito (Angelo Ogbonna, 77), Daniele

De Rossi (Simone Pepe, 46), Andrea Pirlo (Thiago Motta, 46),

Claudio Marchisio (Alessandro Matri, 62), Riccardo Montolivo

(Antonio Nocerino, 62), Giampaolo Pazzini (Alberto Aquilani, 62),

Mario Balotelli.