x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Balotelli-Rossi strike parternship matched by Nigeria in friendly

Rossi scored the opener and Balotelli was instrumental in both Italy goals, but the side drew 2-2 with Nigeria after Austine Ejide proved too tough in net.

Giuseppe Rossi atempts to get around Solomon Kwambe on Monday night in Italy and Nigeria's 2-2 draw. Claudio Villa / Getty Images
Giuseppe Rossi atempts to get around Solomon Kwambe on Monday night in Italy and Nigeria's 2-2 draw. Claudio Villa / Getty Images

LONDON // Born just a day apart in the United States, two strikers were celebrating scoring in an international friendly on Monday night.

But for different teams. And the Stars and Stripes were nowhere in sight on the banks of the River Thames.

New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi marked his first Italy start in two years with the opener before Oklahoma-native Bright Dike headed Nigeria even with his first international goal.

The lively game between the World Cup-qualified countries at Craven Cottage, home of Premier League club Fulham, which is owned by American businessman Shad Khan, ended 2-2. After Shola Ameobi put Nigeria in front, Rossi helped to set up Emanuele Giaccherini’s equaliser a minute into the second half

For the 26 year old Rossi, this friendly proved so significant.

The Fiorentina forward, who returned last May from a 1 1/2-year layoff caused by three knee operations, hadn’t scored for Italy since June 2011, or even started for them since October 2011.

Rossi’s breakthrough in London came after just 12 minutes, lifting the ball over goalkeeper Austine Ejide after Mario Balotelli held off defender Azubuike Egwuekwe to set up his fellow forward.

The Balotelli-Rossi strike partnership is one that could be together at the World Cup next year in Brazil.

“I liked how Rossi and Balotelli played in attack,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “They immediately found each other.”

But the Italians were made to pay for their inability to turn dominance into a second goal when Dike tied it in the 35th minute.

The Toronto FC striker rose above Manuel Pasqual to meet Ameobi’s cross with a header. And, inside four minutes, Ameobi volleyed in at the near post from Francis Benjamin’s cross.

But Italy got even at the start of the second half, with AC Milan striker Balotelli playing a deft role in the goal.

He back-heeled the ball from the edge of the penalty area to Rossi, who flicked it on for Antonio Candreva to send to Giaccherini. And the Sunderland midfielder struck his third international goal in the 46th minute.

In Prandelli’s 50th match in charge, Italy were repeatedly denied a winner by goalkeeper Ejide and had to settle for a fourth successive draw.

“We have several months to go before the World Cup and I have a lot of certainties,” Prandelli said. “I still have a few thoughts to consider and I will do that. In any case, 2013 has been very positive.”