Advocaat's men make slack Azzurri pay in final Euro 2012
Despite a number of chances to hit the back of
the net, Cesare Prandelli's side ended up succumbing to three second-half
strikes that were aided by some dismal defending
By Tom Webber
Italy's Euro 2012 preparations received yet another blow as they were
defeated 3-0 by Russia in an entertaining encounter in Zurich.
There was a glut of chances throughout the game and it was remarkable
that the score was level at the break. However, the second half saw Dick
Advocaat's side find the finishing touch with Alexander Kerzhakov and
a double from Roman Shirokov exploiting some glaring defensive mishaps
in the Italian defence in their only warm-up match before the tournament
in Poland and Ukraine.
The game began very evenly with both sides looking to attack and seize
the initiative. Daniele De Rossi volleyed wide of the post after three
minutes, and seconds later Alan Dzagoev saw his drilled effort saved by
The Azzurri continued to push forward, and when Andrea Pirlo spotted Mario
Balotelli's diagonal run across the top of the box in the seventh minute
he guided a trademark exquisite pass on to the striker's chest. Balotelli
then lashed a volley at goal but it was straight at Vyacheslav Malafeev,
who deflected the ball behind.
Russia were unperturbed, and before 10 minutes had been played they hit
the woodwork through Kerzhakov. Andrei Arshavin passed in to Shirokov
who, with his back to goal, dinked the ball over the defence and into
the path of the striker, and he rattled the near post with his attempt.
The game soon settled down after the high-tempo start but sparked back
to life after a 10-minute subsidence in the action. De Rossi and Shirokov
both went close and in the 26th minute Pirlo picked out the Roma midfielder
with another beautiful pass. De Rossi squared the ball across the box
but it was agonisingly out of reach of Balotelli, who was unable to turn
in to an open net.
The opportunities kept flowing and Russia had three more chances to find
the net. Konstantin Zyryanov blazed over from inside the area and moments
later saw another effort scrape the outside of the post. Then, in the
32nd minute, Yury Zhirkov burst in at the back post and slammed an effort
towards the near post, but Buffon had it covered with the help of his
With the second half continuing in a similar vein, Cassano volleyed over
from Balotelli's superb pass, and in the 52nd minute Claudio Marchisio
completely mishit the ball after being put through on goal and Igor Akinfeev
was able to make an easy save.
Despite Italy's impressive start to the half, it was Russia who finally
got the ball in the net on the hour mark. Some excellent play by Dzagoev
and Shirokov on the right ended with Kerzhakov arrowing a perfectly-executed
volley into the bottom corner after the ball looped up from his first
Italy tried to find the equaliser but they were struggling to test Akinfeev
in the Russia goal. With 15 minutes remaining Dick Advocaat's side doubled
their lead after a mix up between Cristian Maggio and Morgan De Sanctis
saw Arshavin steel in and get a foot on the keeper's clearance. The ball
fell to Shirokov, who will never have an easier goal as he rolled the
ball into a vacant net.
The Azzurri were crestfallen, and the scoreline got even worse in the
dying moments. Aleksandr Kokorin's shot looked to be going wide but a
touch from Maggio saw the ball loop up and Shirokov pounced to nod the
ball into the net.
Cesare Prandelli may well be rueing the cancelled friendly against Luxembourg
as he has no other chance to try other options ahead of Euro 2012. Russia,
however, will take huge confidence from the result and now the tournament
will not come soon enough, with the opener against Czech Republic just
eight days away.