Greece 1-1 Italy: Toni Wakes Up, Lippi Makes it 31 (International Friendly)

The big story of Wednesday night’s Greece vs. Italy friendly, which let’s face it had the “boring” stamp written all over it before it even started (especially with Inter vs. Juventus coming up this week-end), is that Marcello Lippi is now officially the best Azzurri coach ever. Sure, winning the 2006 World Cup helped in that sense, but Lippi is now also the manager with the longest streak of games without a loss. Better than Vittorio Pozzo (of 1934 and 1938 World Cup-winning fame) who raked in 30 positive matches, good old Marcello is now leading at 31.

Another good piece of news from Greece? Luca Toni has finally ended his Azzurri goalscoring drought!! His beautiful header Wednesday (receiving a good De Rossi set-piece delivery) put an end to over (believe it or not) 700 minutes of goalless playing time. About time too!

Aside from that, the Italian team didn’t shine a whole lot with their performance. It was nice seeing Camoranesi back to full fitness (the winger even came close to scoring), and while all eyes were pointed towards Giuseppe Rossi (in the starting line-up for the first time), the Villarreal striker didn’t raise too many “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd. One good scoring chance, and a disciplined game otherwise.

Tactically this was Lippi’s opportunity to experiment, so much so in fact the Azzurri manager even reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, in order to put his star youngster (Rossi) in the most ideal position fit for his role. In the rest of the line-up, De Sanctis profitted from the double Buffon-Amelia absence and occupied his place in net, while Cannavaro-Chiellini took firm place as center-backs. In midfield, Montolivo made an appearance alongside De Rossi and Gattuso. Up front, Toni was preferred over Gilardino.

The first half was average. The pace of the game was slow, many players (especially the 5 Juventini called up by Lippi) were thinking about the upcoming Derby d’Italia, so it was reasonable not to expect too much fighting drive from the Azzurri today. Except from Gennaro Gattuso of course, who as we know ignores the definition of “friendly match”. The Milan midfielder (who would later inherit the captain’s armband, after Cannavaro’s substitution) would actually be the first to open the dance, blasting a powerful but accurate shot from mid-range that warmed up goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas. On the ensuing corner, a Cannavaro shot would end up towards Rossi in a very good position, but the striker’s point-blank range effort would find the opposing hands of Tzorvas once again. Close, but no cigar for Italy.

On the other end, Greece showed they had their word to say in this match too. A Spiropoulos cross from the left wing found the ready header of Kostas Katsouranis, who narrowly missed the target with De Sanctis immobile. The hosts would then later scream for a penalty, after an unintentional handball by Gattuso inside the box, not given by referee Howard webb. Before the half ended, Greece did manage to find the net through Evangelos Mantzios, but the goal was disallowed for offside. 0-0 at the break.

In the second half, both teams came back from the changing rooms evidently remotivated. Lippi replaced the first two pawns on his chessboard (Pepe and Legrottaglie for Montolivo and Chiellini), and Italy moved forward in order to grab the first lead. A good left-footed effort by Toni found the trailing leg of Tsorvas, followed later by an absolute cannonball of a shot by Camoranesi, deflected once again by the Greek goalkeeper. Ironically, this would be the prelude to the home team’s goal, after a lost ball by Gattuso in midfield, a vertical pass towards Theofanis Gekas, and an accurate finish inside of De Sanctis’s post. 1-0 Greece.

The Italian reply did not take long to arrive. A De Rossi free-kick from 35 yards found Luca Toni on the far post, whose accurate header left Tsorvas no chance this time. It was Azzurri goal nº16 for LucaBomber, putting an end to 724 minutes of international duty drought for the Bayern striker. 1-1.

It was essentially the last big highlight of the game, with the exception of a good Camoranesi-Toni-Camoranesi combo setting up the Italian-Argentine winger for the finish, but his effort was saved by the Greek goalkeeper. There was time for Christian Maggio to make his first appearance in the Azzurri shirt, and for Gilardino and Iaquinta to get a little bit of playing time as well. The two strikers had minor opportunities to give their contribution, but in the end with little results. 1-1 at full time, with Lippi satisfied of his boys’ performance and his career record.


 Greece FA (Hellenic Football Federation (HFF) (Greek: Ελληνική Ποδοσφαιρική Ομοσπονδία - (EPO))
[Match Highlights]
 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
GOALSCORERS: 50’ Gekas (G), 54’ Toni (I).
GREECE (4-5-1): Tzorvas – Vyntra, Papastathopoulos, Dellas, Spiropoulos – Tziolis, Basinas (88’ Pliatsikas), Katsouranis, Salpigidis (88’. Ninis), Karagounis (46’ Gekas) – Mantzios (46’ Liberopoulos). (bench: Halkias, Papadopoluos, Kutsianikulis, Patsatzoglou, Torosidis). Coach: Rehhagel.
ITALY (4-3-3): De Sanctis – Bonera, F.Cannavaro (61’ Gamberini), Chiellini (46’ Legrottaglie), Grosso – Gattuso, De Rossi, Montolivo (46’ Pepe) – Camoranesi (61’ Maggio), Toni (61’ Gilardino), G.Rossi (70’ Iaquinta). (bench: Curci, Dossena, Perrotta, D’Agostino). Coach: Lippi.


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