A friendly on paper it may have been but a well-attended stadium witnessed an absolute cracker of a match between two teams who went unbeaten during their World Cup qualifying campaigns.
Both sides attacked from the off and chances came and went before Giuseppe Rossi put the Azzurri ahead with his first international goal for over two years.
Italy continued to dominate in terms of possession and chances but Nigeria struck back to lead with two quickfire goals from Bright Dike and Newcastle United’s Shola Ameobi - with a brilliantly executed volley - before the end of the first half to stun their opponents.
It took Italy only two minutes to get back on level terms after the break as Emanuele Giaccherini converted Antonio Candreva’s through ball. And although both sides missed a number of chances to add to their tally, it ended honours even in Cesare Prandelli’s 50th game in charge.
So dominant were Italy for the opening half hour that it looked like Nigeria could be on the receiving end of a cricket score two days before England start their Ashes series against Australia in Brisbane.
Nigel Atkinson waved away a decent early penalty shout as Giaccherini tumbled to the floor but a minute later Italy were ahead, Rossi notching his first goal for Italy since November 2011.
Riccardo Montolivo came close to doubling Italy’s lead before putting Balotelli through on goal but second choice keeper Aiustin Ejide again limited the damage.
With Italy in the ascendancy, Nigeria then got a foothold as Dike headed past Salvatore Sirigu and roared on by vociferous support Nigeria then went ahead as Ameobi volleyed home Francis Benjamin’s cross in fine fashion.
When Giaccherini drew Italy level within two minutes of the restart it looked as if the Azzurri would dominate for periods as they had done in the first half, but try as they might the ball stayed out of Nigeria’s net.
Both sides made numerous attacking and the entrance of Andrea Pirlo ensured that none of the fans would leave before the final whistle.
The midfield maestro came close to putting Italy ahead but his free-kick was well saved by Ejide before Marco Parolo somehow put the follow-up over the bar and then hit the post moments later.
Sirigu himself was called into action to save from substitute Ahmed Musa but the Nigeria goal remained the busier, Balotelli squandering two more great chances before Alessandro Diamanti saw his late free-kick cannon back off the crossbar.
The result means that Italy have still not won a game on neutral soil in seven attempts since Prandelli took charge but it certainly was not for a lack of ambition.
- Sports & Recreation
- Shola Ameobi
- Mario Balotelli