A game that was initially arranged as an Italy farewell for Gianluigi Buffon, and quickly deemed redundant with his refusal to feature, was played out at walking pace as the Azzurri drew 1-1 with the Netherlands at Juventus’ Allianz Stadium on Monday evening.
It was a fixture between two of international football’s most historic names that was intended to honour one of the game’s all-time great goalkeepers but, in the end, felt and sounded more like a game between two Torinese schools who were allowed to take advantage of the Serie A season ending by playing in the home of their country’s champions.
With neither country featuring in the World Cup, fans from these two storied nations will be left to use the bet365 Android App in order to drive interest in the tournament.
The opening exchanges set the tempo, or lack thereof, and it was clear to all that this was an exhibition game that was closing out a season for two nations that would very much not be heading to Russia to compete in the summer’s World Cup.
Little happened in the first half-hour, with the highlight being a sporadic punctuation of corners for Italy. Lorenzo Insigne did then display some real quality with 30 minutes played as he threaded a sublime ball into the path of Andrea Belotti from the left flank. The Torino forward controlled well and shot towards the near post but, despite Jasper Cillessen diving the wrong way, the ‘keeper did well and managed to deny Il Gallo.
A Davide Zappacosta slip almost cost Italy a goal for the second time in a week as he stumbled and set Memphis Depay through on goal which forced an impressive save out of Mattia Perin, only for play to be called back for an apparent foul on the Chelsea full-back by the Lyon star.
It was again the captain Insigne who looked to trouble the Dutch first in the second half. Starting an attack with Belotti, the ball came to the Neapolitan 25-yards from goal and his frustrated effort flew over the crossbar and was never likely to make Cillessen work.
As the hour-mark approached the usual flurry of substitutes started. With Roberto Mancini introducing Mattia De Sciglio, Federico Chiesa and Simone Zaza, each change separated by about 30 seconds, preventing any chance the game had of finding a rhythm.
Perin was called into action again to deny Memphis, this time preventing the forward’s header.
The substitutes did soon pay off as Italy took the lead. Chiesa’s pace set him in the clear wide on the right and with time on his side he picked out a low cross to the near post. Zaza was alert and timed his run excellently to appear from behind the Dutch defender at the near post and, while sliding, converted out of Cillessen’s reach less than three minutes after his arrival.
Domenico Criscito was shown red after making a last-ditch foul Ryan Babel right on the edge of the box. Perin was again called into action as he got down well to turn away the subsequent free-kick.
There was more life in the second half than the first, but still little cause for excitement. Though in truth, it is hard to fault any of the players given the context of the game and the largely experimental sides named by both coaches.
Space opened up with Italy being down to ten men and the Dutch looked to increase the tempo in the game’s closing minutes, but the regular interruptions of substitutes made it difficult for either side to really take a grip of the game. Chiesa did have a chance for Italy but had his shot saved.
Another substitute found himself on the scoresheet as the Netherlands drew level. A hopeful ball into the box found Nathan Ake free at the back post and the defender couldn’t miss with his close-range header.