ST GALLEN, Switzerland (Reuters) – Mario Balotelli scored on his first Italy appearance in nearly four years on Monday as they beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in a friendly to give new coach Roberto Mancini a winning start.
Italy have missed out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958 and Mancini was starting the daunting task of rebuilding the side following their historic failure.
World Cup qualifiers Saudi Arabia offered little threat for the first hour yet came close to morale-boosting draw in the second half after falling 2-0 behind.
Balotelli, who last played for his country in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, broke the deadlock after 21 minutes, twisting past a defender before beating goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais with a low shot from outside the area.
Substitute Andrea Belotti extended Italy’s lead in the 69th minute, scoring at the second attempt after his powerful downward header was parried by Al-Owais.
The Saudis, who face Russia, Egypt and Uruguay in their World Cup group, had not offered the slightest threat until that point but suddenly burst into life.
Davide Zappacosta lost possession on the halfway line and the ball was quickly slipped to Yahya Al Shehri who sped past the onrushing Gianluigi Donnarumma and scored into an empty net in the 72nd minute.
Another defensive mix-up by Italy almost let in Fahad Al-Muwallad to equalise but his shot was saved by Donnarumma.
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern, editing by Ed Osmond)