Mario Balotelli scores on first start in four years as Roberto Mancini claims victory in his first game in charge of national team

Mario Balotelli returned to Italy duty with a bang following a four-year absence as his first-half goal set the tone for a friendly victory over Saudi Arabia in St Gallen.

The 27-year-old striker, who last featured for the Azzurri at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, was recalled by new Italy boss Roberto Mancini after scoring 26 goals for Nice this season.

He dug out an emphatic opener to assert Italy’s authority over Saudi Arabia – even if it is the Green Falcons and not Italy who will compete in Russia following the Europeans’ failed qualifying campaign.

The Nice striker was making his first start for his country since the 2014 World Cup

Substitute Andrea Belotti and Yahya Al-Shehri exchanged goals after the break, but Italy were triumphant come the final whistle in Switzerland.

Balotelli is mobbed by team-mates after giving them the lead against Saudi Arabia on Monday

Balotelli, who spent two of his years of exile from the Italy set-up on the books at Liverpool, got straight into the action, heading narrowly wide before setting Alessandro Florenzi up for an attempt.

Matteo Politano saw a shot deflected out for a corner and Lorenzo Pellegrini headed wide before Balotelli struck the opener in the 21st minute.

Andrea Belotti bundles the ball home to double Italy’s lead midway through the second half

His first Italy goal since his World Cup group-match winner against England in Manaus back in June 2014 came from a booming right-footed drive that delivered the ball to a bottom corner of the net.

AC Milan defender Alessio Romagnoli attempted an acrobatic finish and Domenico Criscito hit the crossbar before half-time, as overwhelmed Saudi Arabia somehow avoided conceding again.

After Pellegrini missed a gilt-edged chance with the hour mark approaching, Balotelli was withdrawn for Torino’s Belotti and the latter did not need long to double Italy’s advantage.

From a corner, he headed towards goal, and after Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais parried, Belotti turned the loose ball home.

Roberto Mancini sings the national anthem as he takes charge of his first match as Italy boss

Saudi found some inspiration ahead of their World Cup group games against Russia, Uruguay and Egypt as Al-Nassr midfielder Al-Shehri slashed the deficit in the 73rd minute after Italy lost possession.

Gianluigi Donnarumma spared Italy from embarrassment by repelling Fahad Al-Muwallad’s close-range attempt as Saudi decided to have a go with time running out at Kybunpark.

Yahya Al-Shehri rounds Gianluigi Donnarumma to pull one back for Saudi Arabia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.