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).