New Italy coach Roberto Mancini got his Azzurri career off to a winning start, as the returning Mario Balotelli netted the opener in a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia on Monday.
The former Zenit tactician kicked off his tenure with a 4-3-3 spearheaded by the Nice striker, with Matteo Politano and Lorenzo Insigne alongside. Balotelli certainly repaid the decision, as he opened the scoring in his first Azzurri appearance since the 2014 World Cup with a lovely finish from distance.
Andrea Belotti added a second after coming on as a substitute, though Mancini won’t be pleased with the goal conceded to Yahya Al-Shehri after some poor defending by Davide Zappacosta and Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Balotelli got his night off to a quick start as he looked to have put the Azzurri ahead inside the opening two minutes, but the goal was called back due to Insigne being in an offside position.
He followed that up with a glancing header that went just wide of the mark, while Lorenzo Pellegrini managed to do the same from a corner.
It came as no surprise that Balotelli opened the scoring after 20 minutes. After dribbling at defenders, the 27-year-old cut in and fired a low drive that found the bottom corner – his 14th goal in 34 appearances for Italy.
Another returning figure – Domenico Criscito – nearly doubled the advantage before half-time, but after some great build-up play, he thumped his effort off the crossbar.
Pellegrini should have made it 2-0 after the restart, but he somehow managed to send Zappacosta’s great cross over the bar from close range.
Balotelli came off to a round of applause – replaced by Belotti – and it was the Torino man who doubled the lead.
Jorginho’s corner found the head of the onrushing striker, and while Mohammed Al-Owais parried the header, he couldn’t deny Belotti from firing home the rebound.
However, with the contest seemingly decided, Italy’s defence fell asleep in stunning fashion.
Zappacosta slipped and lost the ball in the middle of the park, allowing Salem Al-Dawsari to pick out Yahya Al-Shehri on the counter. Donnarumma inexplicably rushed well out of his penalty area to cut out the danger, but the Saudi attacker found his way past and fired home to make 2-1.
The AC Milan goalkeeper would redeem himself though, as he stopped Fahad Al-Muwallad from point-blank range after a mistake by Criscito.
It proved to be the only tremor until the final whistle, allowing Italy to secure a 2-1 victory in Mancini’s debut on the bench.
Italy will now prepare for a friendly with France on Friday.