Italy start new era with defeat but plenty of promise
Milan: Ivory Coast beat former world champions Italy 1-0 at a rainy Upton Park on Tuesday in a lively friendly from which both teams could take plenty of satisfaction.
The Ivorians scored with a powerful header from Kolo Toure after 55 minutes but Italy, under new coach Cesare Prandelli for the first time, showed lots of promise as they embarked on a fresh start after their dismal World Cup display.
"We knew it was hard to put a team together in two days (of training)," Prandelli told Rai television. "We`ve got to work calmly, with enthusiasm and desire.”
"We have to continue to believe we are a great soccer nation. (Antonio) Cassano did well, (Mario) Balotelli did some interesting things."
Prandelli handed debuts to goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, defenders Cristian Molinaro and Marco Motta and forwards Amauri and Balotelli.
Balotelli, who is being courted by Manchester City, went close early on with a powerful free kick and another rasping shot.
The striker made his presence felt and along with Cassano and Brazilian-born Amauri, who also went close with a first-half header, they kept the Ivorian defenders on their toes.
Balotelli, who could well be returning to West Ham`s Upton Park ground later this season, went off after an hour, the first of a string of second-half substitutions.
Ivory Coast, who like Italy had a disappointing World Cup and also went out at the group stage, had plenty of familiar names in their starting lineup including goalscorer Toure and brother and skipper Yaya who has just joined City from Barcelona for 24 million pounds.
Chelsea`s Salomon Kalou and Arsenal`s Emmanuel Eboue are also familiar visitors to Upton Park but it was Gervinho, who plays for Lille, who had Ivory Coast`s best first-half chance, firing wide with only Sirigu to beat after a superb move after 16 minutes.
Italy right back Motta shot against the post early in the second half before Simone Pepe forced Daniel Yeboah into an acrobatic save soon after.
Despite the result, the constant drizzle and the early-season rustiness, Italy played with more zip than they did at the World Cup to give Prandelli reasons for optimism before they begin their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign next month.
Italy start with two winnable matches against Estonia and Faroe Islands in a group that also includes Serbia, Northern Ireland and Slovenia.
It was only the second time West Ham had staged a full international in 106 years, after hosting England`s match against Australia in February 2003.