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Saudi Arabia's Pizzi satisfied despite defeat to Italy

St. Gallen: Mario Balotelli scored for Italy as they beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in an international friendly in St. Gallen on Monday.

The friendly was part of Saudi Arabia's preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, where they will face hosts Russia in the tournament opener on June 14.

Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi was pleased with his team's performance despite the defeat.

"In the second half we held our own against one of the best teams in the world," said Pizzi. "Although they are not in the World Cup, they have a great coach, an unparalleled history."

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Four-time champions Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the task of resurrecting their fortunes has been handed to former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini.

Made the scapegoat for Italy's first-round exit from the 2014 World Cup, Balotelli's four-year Azzurri hiatus ended when he was recalled by Mancini, appointed six months after Italy's shock failure to qualify for Russia following a playoff defeat to Sweden.

It took the 27-year-old Nice striker just 21 minutes to get on the scoreboard with his first goal for Italy since netting the winner against England at the 2014 World Cup.

Substitute Andrea Belotti added a second midway through the second half before Yahya Al-Shehri pulled one back for the Saudis following Italian defensive blunders.

Both Mancini and Pizzi made substitutions in the second half with Balotelli making way for Belotti after 58 minutes.

And the 24-year-old Torino striker scored the second when he turned in a rebound 10 minutes later.

Al-Shehri pulled Saudi Arabia back into the game four minutes later taking advantage of defensive error by Davide Zappacosta.

Leganes winger Al-Shehri picked up a Salem Al Dawsari flick and fired past the outrushing Donnarumma into an empty net.

After Donnarumma denied Fahad Al Muwallad a late equaliser Italy held on for their first win since their 1-0 World Cup qualifier away to Albania on October 9, which was followed by two draws and two defeats.

Source: AFP

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