Italy cruise to victory over McIlroy's youngsters

Italy 2 Northern Ireland 0
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The Independent Football

Two goals, one in either half, by Lazio's Bernardo Coradi and Marco Delvecchio of Roma saw Italy cruise to victory in this friendly in Campobasso. Yet perhaps not as emphatically as might have been expected given the relative footballing fortunes of the two countries. While Italy had just provided both teams in the Champions' League final, Northern Ireland had endured nine consecutive defeats before this match.

By the end of it they had lost 10 - and accrued the unenviable statistic of having gone 882 minutes without scoring. But for manager Sammy McIlroy this friendly was more an opportunity to give some youngsters valuable experience. Nevertheless, it seemed a tough time to hand a debut to Glentoran striker Andrew Smith, playing as the sole striker.

The two other men making their senior debuts were Southampton teenager Chris Baird and Bristol City's Tommy Doherty in a team captained by Newcastle's Aaron Hughes.

Italy's coach Giovanni Trapattoni picked a youthful side, too. His starting XI was without the rested threesome of Alessandro Del Piero, Alessandro Nesta and Filippo Inzaghi which made Internazionale's Fabio Cannavaro the most experienced member of the side.

Northern Ireland's attacking opportunities were restricted by consistent Italian pressure but but the visitors coped well and there were few clear cut opportunities for the Italians.

Thirteen minutes passed before the Irish had their first shot on goal as Danny Griffin fired over from long distance. From a direct free-kick seven minutes later he did better but was again no challenge for Francesco Toldo.

Smith later hit the crossbar with a header, but Italy opened the scoring in the 31st minute when defender Massimo Oddo chipped in a low cross from the right which was met by Lazio striker Bernardo Corradi who swept the ball home.

In the 67th minute Delvecchio found himself one-on-one with substitute goalkeeper Roy Carroll, and made no mistake, sending his shot low into the right corner to seal the match.

Italy (4-4-2): Toldo; Cannavaro (Ferrari, h-t), Grosso, Legrottaglie, Oddo; Ambrosini, Fiore, Perrotta, Miccoli; Corradi (Delvecchio, h-t), Di Vaio. Substitutes not used: Abbiati, Bonera, Birindelli, Nervo, Tommasi, Di Natale.

Northern Ireland (4-3-2-1): Taylor (Carroll, h-t); Baird, Hughes (capt), McCartney, Kennedy (Williams, 55); Griffin, Healy, Doherty; Johnson, McVeigh (Jones, 55); Smith. Substitutes not used: Craigan, McCann, Elliott, Toner, Hamilton.

Referee: Lucillo Baptista (Portugal).