Mario Balotelli’s brace on his Milan debut at the weekend was not only encouragement for the Rossoneri that their sizable investment would be justified, but it must also have brought a smile to the face of Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
Firstly, Balotelli, who seemed set to lead the line for the Azzurri for years to come following his two-goal destruction of Germany in the Euro 2012 final, appears likely to get far more regular first-team action at the San Siro than he did at Manchester City. More than that, alongside Balotelli in an exciting Milan attack is another young star of the Italian game, Stephan El Shaarawy.
The 20-year-old El Shaarawy and 22-year-old Balotelli provide plenty of hope for forming a potent attacking combination to fittingly compliment Italy’s array of midfield options. The pair look set to start in a high-profile friendly against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
Louis van Gaal has also put a strong focus on youth since taking over last year. Partly forced upon him and in part as a reaction to their awful performance in the European Championships, Van Gaal has shown much faith in his country’s emerging talent.
He has been rewarded too with the Oranje winning their first four matches in their World Cup qualification group. The Netherlands’ midfield against Italy could well be made up of entirely young, home-based players, with the already experienced Kevin Strootman potentially lining up alongside 19-year-old AZ Alkmaar playmaker Adam Maher and Feyenoord’s 21-year-old Jordy Clasie.
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D: Van Rhijn, Mathijsen, De Vrij, Martins Indi
M: Clasie, Strootman, Maher
F: Lens, Van Persie, John
D: Abate, Barzagli, Astori, Santon
M: Montolivo, Pirlo, De Rossi
F: Candreva, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
Prediction: Italy have lost five straight friendly internationals, which gives plenty of credence to the long-held notion that they only really get going when the stakes are high. Regardless of the result, there is plenty to intrigue in this exhibition between two teams with ample exciting young talent.
There will be a contrast in the midfield, though, where the Netherlands’ young trio will come up against an experienced Italian three. That could be crucial to allowing the visitors to get a strong foothold and avoiding a sixth consecutive friendly loss.
Netherlands 2-2 Italy
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick-off from the Amsterdam Arena at 2.30 p.m. ET. A live stream will be provided by ESPN3.