Marco Verratti came off the bench to earn Italy a dramatic and undeserved 1-1 draw with┬áNetherlands in Amsterdam on Wednesday evening.
Jeremain Lens’ wonderful volley appeared certain to earn the Dutch a first ever friendly win over the Azzurri, but the visitors levelled matters in the first minute of injury-time through their Paris Saint-Germain playmaker.
Despite having started with AC Milan duo Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli in a three-man forward line alongside Antonio Candreva, Cesare Prandelli’s men never looked remotely like fashioning an equaliser before the introduction of the far more lively Pablo Osvaldo and Alberto Gilardino midway through the second period.
Italy’s lack of potency was surprising given that they had called upon several members of the squad that reached the final of Euro 2012, while their hosts fielded a side littered with youngsters, two of whom were making their international debuts: Daley Blind and Ola John.
However, it was players clad in orange who looked far more familiar with one another early on. Indeed, Netherlands dominated the opening half hour, with Adam Maher twice drawing wonderful reaction saves out of veteran Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
In the first instance, the Azzurri skipper blocked with his feet after Robin van Persie and John combined well to open the visitors up down the right-hand side. Oranje enjoyed further success down the same flank moments later, but again Maher was denied by Buffon, the Juventus legend clawing away the AZ playmaker’s instinctive volley.
The goal that Netherlands were threatening, and thoroughly deserved, finally arrived on 33 minutes – and it was worth waiting for, Lens giving Buffon no chance with a thumping volley, after brilliantly flicking the ball over Astori’s outstretched right leg.
Credit to Italy, they responded well to falling behind and three times Ignazio Ibate got in behind the Dutch back four, only to fail to pick out a man in the centre on each occasion.
Both sides made two changes during the interval but Netherlands continued to carry the greater attacking threat, with Arjen Robben, who had come on in place of Robin van Persie, clearly intent on proving his worth to coach Van Gaal. The winger looked lively right from the off, almost immediately creating an opening for John, who could only shoot straight at Buffon.
As is customary in such fixtures, the substitutions just kept coming and they took the edge of what had been an absorbing encounter up until the break. Netherlands still looked the more likely scorers, in fairness, with Kevin Strootman drilling a long-range effort just wide, John and Robben both testing Buffon with well-struck drives before Dirk Kuyt shot tamely at goal after being put through by the most brilliantly disguised pass from Maher.
However, Italy came to life in the closing stages and, after Osvaldo and Gilardino had both gone close, the latter set up fellow substitute Verratti for an equaliser in the dying seconds; the Paris Saint-Germain playmaker doing wonderfully well to hold off his man and lift the ball over Tim Krul, silencing the home fans in the process.