Italy draws high-flying Netherlands
Substitute Marco Verratti spared Italy from a sixth consecutive friendly defeat by restricting Holland to a 1-1 draw with his last-gasp goal at the Amsterdam ArenA.
Cesare Prandelli’s Azzurri offered precious little in attack before the break, leaving Gianluigi Buffon to single-handedly keep a dynamic Holland side at bay, with only Jeremain Lens breaking the Juventus goalkeeper’s resolve.
Italy steadily rallied in the second half, thanks to the introduction of Pablo Osvaldo, Alberto Gilardino and Verratti, with the latter two combining to produce a late equaliser.
Newcastle defender Davide Santon looked lively as Robin van Persie tried his luck within five minutes but Italy soon had a scare at the other end of the pitch.
Mario Balotelli cut his knee following a tussle with Kevin Strootman but he was able to continue.
Buffon soon came under siege from AZ Alkmaar midfielder Adam Maher. The veteran keeper needed fast reactions to deny Maher from close range with his feet before snatching up a deceptive volley as a Van Persie effort ricocheted around the box.
Strootman blasted firmly into Buffon’s arms and Italy launched a counter-attack.
Balotelli twice tried to pick out Milan team-mate Stephan El Shaarawy before chesting down a perfect cross from Andrea Pirlo only to miss the target.
Holland were ahead in the 33rd minute, though, as the Azzurri backline failed to clear a Daryl Janmaat cross, leaving Lens to step up and rifle the ball into the net on the volley.
El Shaarawy beat the offside trap to escape the attentions of Ola John but his finish was lacking and Holland carried a narrow lead into the break.
Pirlo and Antonio Candreva were replaced by Alessandro Diamanti and Alessandro Florenzi at the break, with Van Persie and Jordy Clasie making way for Arjen Robben and debutant Jonathan de Guzman.
Balotelli soon lost his temper as Italy failed to get a foothold in the game and Prandelli opted to withdraw the striker for Osvaldo on the hour mark, with Daniele De Rossi’s departure for Verratti going largely unnoticed.
Lens fancied a second goal and he was only denied it by the resolute Buffon, who stepped up to parry a rasping drive with an outstretched hand. He soon repeated the trick as Robben cut inside on his favoured left foot.
Chances had been at a premium for Italy and Diamanti should have done better when Ignazio Abate won a free-kick from Strootman in a dangerous position, but Prandelli’s men began to show late signs of life in the final 10 minutes.
Gilardino, who replaced El Shaarawy, and Osvaldo went close with headers before the latter made Tim Krul stand up and take notice with a volley that shaved a post.
Dirk Kuyt threatened to put the game to bed moments later but his radar malfunctioned, allowing Gilardino to register Italy’s first shot on target in the 86th minute.
Their second shot on target followed in stoppage time as Verratti made no mistake with a left-footed finish.