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Thursday, 20 November 2008
Greek coach Otto Rehhagel picked a slightly inexperienced squad for this friendly, as nine of his 20 squad members had played less than 10 times for the country. This was partly due to the injuries to both Angelos Charisteas and Giourkas Seitaridis, and the withdrawals of Giorgios Samaras and Ioannis Amanatidis. There were some familiar faces on show for Serie A fans in the form of Genoa defender Sokratis and Panathinaikos' ex-Inter midfielder Giorgios Karagounis.
A different look Italian squad arrived in Athens, with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta, Andrea Pirlo, Alberto Aquilani and Alessandro Del Piero all out for various reasons. Marcello Lippi, who was looking to break the legendary Vittorio Pozzo’s record of 30 successive Azzurri games undefeated, fielded a forward trident of Luca Toni, Mauro Camoranesi and Giuseppe Rossi, the latter making his first start for the Azzurri.
Italy had their first chance of the game on eight minutes, as Rino Gattuso forced Alexandros Tzorvas into a smart save. From the resulting corner Rossi missed a fantastic opportunity to score his first goal for Italy, as the ball broke to him, but from just six yards out he could not find a way past Tzorvas.
The Azzurri had made a bright start, but Greece showed intent of their own on 17 minutes as Karagounis sliced the ball well wide from 30 yards.
The home side were improving, and on 25 minutes they created their best opening of the game so far as Spyropoulos crossed from the left for Kostas Katsouranis, who was unmarked in the middle but headed wide.
Set-pieces were a possible weapon for Italy, and Luca Toni just couldn't stretch enough to get onto the end of Daniele De Rossi's free kick. Seconds later the Bayern Munich man twisted past his man inside the area before scuffing the ball wide with his left foot.
Greece had the ball in the back of the net on 38 minutes through Mantzios, but he was flagged offside and Italy survived.
Rossi burst into life a few minutes later by embarking on a superb solo run before being upended on the edge of the area. He took the free kick himself but fired straight into the wall.
The Villarreal youngster had now found his touch, and right on the stroke of half time he showed quick feet to get a shot in, forcing Tzorvas into a low save down to his right.
Both teams made two changes at the break. Greece introduced Fanis Gekas and Nikos Liberopoulos for Karagounis and Mantzios. Italy brought on Simone Pepe and Nicola Legrottaglie for Chiellini and Riccardo Montolivo.
Into the second half, and Italy started strongly, with Mauro Camoranesi unleashing a thunderbolt from 25 yards that was turned around the post by Tzorvas. Gattuso then fired over with his left foot.
However, it was Greece who took the lead just moments later as Tziolis slipped the ball through to Gekas, and he finished clinically into the corner past Morgan De Sanctis.
Greece continued to attack, and De Sanctis was called into action to prevent further damage as he went down low to save from Basinas' free kick.
Moments later Italy were level, and Toni grabbed the goal, thus ending his long international goal drought. The Bayern Munich peeled off his man at the back post to nod De Rossi's free kick into the far corner of the net.
On 58 minutes, Italy should have gone ahead as a fine team move ended with the ball being presented to Camoranesi, but Tzorvas produced a superb reaction save to turn the ball around the post.
Lippi made three more changes on the hour mark, as Alessandro Gamberini, Alberto Gilardino and debutant Christian Maggio replaced Cannavaro, Toni and Camoranesi. Gattuso took the captain's armband off Cannavaro.
De Rossi skied the ball over from distance before Greece wasted a good opening as Dimitis Salpigidis screwed the ball wide when well placed inside the area.
Vincenzo Iaquinta came on for Rossi to complete Italy's six substitutions, but on 72 minutes the impressive Katsouranis went close for Greece as he lashed the ball over from 25 yards.
All these substitutions understandably broke up Italy's rhythm, and the game then entered a very scrappy phase, as both sides gave away possession and almost seemed to settle for the draw.
However, on 88 minutes there was a sniff of a chance for Iaquinta, but he could not get a good connection on the ball, and the danger passed.
That was all for tonight's action as the game finished 1-1. Marcello Lippi moved on to 31 successive games unbeaten on the Italy bench, thus surpassing the record he previously shared with legendary 1934 and 1938 World Cup winner Vittorio Pozzo.
Greece: Tzorvas; Spyropoulos, Dellas, Vyntra, Tziolis, Papastathopoulos, Karagounis (Gekas 46), Basinas (Ninis 88), Katsouranis; Mantzios (Liberopoulos 46), Salpigidis
Italy: De Sanctis; Bonera, Cannavaro (Gamberini 60), Chiellini (Legrottaglie 46), Grosso; Montolivo (Pepe 46), De Rossi, Gattuso; Camoranesi (Maggio 60), Rossi (Iaquinta 70), Toni (Gilardino 60)
Gekas 50 (G)
Toni 54 (I)
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