LONDON (AP) — Giuseppe Rossi put his injury troubles behind him by scoring on his first Italy start in two years in a lively 2-2 draw with Nigeria on Monday.
The New Jersey-born striker took just 12 minutes to find the net for the first time in almost 30 months for Italy in a display that will raise his hopes of making the World Cup squad next year. It was another U.S.-born striker who provided Nigeria's equalizer in the international friendly, when Bright Dike headed in from Shola Ameobi's cross in the 35th minute. Ameobi found the target himself four minutes later with a slick volley.
But Nigeria's lead was erased a minute after halftime when Rossi helped to set up Emanuele Giaccherini's equalizer. In Cesare Prandelli's 50th match in charge, Italy was repeatedly denied a winner by goalkeeper Austine Ejide.
Just like Prandelli's first — a 1-0 loss to Ivory Coast — the Italians were playing a home fixture in London. This time they swapped West Ham in east London for Fulham's ground in the west. And it was a night when Rossi seemed to put his international career back on track after three operations.
Rossi, who was dropped from Marcello Lippi's 2010 World Cup squad, showed Prandelli on Monday just how he could thrive up front with Mario Balotelli if selected for Brazil 2014. The pair combined for the early opener.
Balotelli held off Azubuike Egwuekwe and, on the turn, fed the ball through for Rossi to lift over goalkeeper Ejide and notch his first international goal since June 2011 against Estonia. Italy was the slicker, more cohesive attacking unit early, with Riccardo Montolivo also skewing a shot wide and Balotelli striking tamely at Ejide after being set up by Rossi.
But the Italians were made to pay for their inability to turn dominance into a second goal when Dike leveled. The Toronto FC striker rose above Manuel Pasqual to send the header into the net and Ameobi soon volleyed in at the near post after meeting Francis Benjamin's cross.
After being denied by Ejide at the end of the first half and at the start of the second, AC Milan striker Balotelli played a deft role in the equalizer. He back-heeled the ball from the edge of the penalty area to Rossi, who flicked it on for Antonio Candreva to square to Giaccherini. And the Sunderland midfielder struck his third international goal in the 46th.
Three changes in the 53rd saw the arrival of Andrea Pirlo and the veteran playmaker soon fired a free kick that was batted down by Ejide, but Marco Parolo could only bundle over the rebound. Parolo was then denied by the post, while a later free kick from Alessandro Diamanti also hit the cross bar.
It was a frustrating night in front of goal for Balotelli, who curled one second-half effort around the post and missed another when meeting a cross in front of goal.