Italy have a new coach, a gaggle of promising new players and a new outlook after their disastrous first-round exit from the World Cup. But still the Azzurri cannot find a way to win.
The 2006 World Cup winners were beaten 1-0 by Ivory Coast at Upton Park in coach Cesare Prandelli's first game in charge on Tuesday, extending Italy's streak without a victory to seven matches. "A loss hurts more after other losses," said the midfielder Daniele de Rossi, who was captain for the friendly. "It's been a horrible year up to this point, but this is just the beginning of a new two-year term."
Italy open their 2012 European Championship qualifying against Estonia and the Faroe Islands next month and will have only one round of Serie A to prepare, with the Italian league season not due to begin until 28 August. The Azzurri have not won since beating Sweden 1-0 in a friendly in November.
"We've got to understand that one friendly in August isn't enough to regain our competitiveness. It's a long-term job that requires everyone working together," said the Italian football federation president, Giancarlo Abete.
Five players made their international debuts against Ivory Coast and full-back Marco Motta went close to scoring in the 47th minute when he shot against the post before defender Kolo Touré headed the African side ahead in the 55th.
"With only three days of training we couldn't ask for anything more," said Prandelli, who signed a four-year contract when Marcello Lippi resigned after the World Cup.
The most highly awaited debuts were made by Internazionale's 19-year-old forward Mario Balotelli, who is still expected to move to Manchester City, and the Brazilian-born striker Amauri, who recently gained Italian citizenship. Prandelli also recalled the talented but temperamental playmaker Antonio Cassano, who was spurned by Lippi. Cassano showed flashes of creativity, floating a cross almost from the touchline that Amauri just headed over four minutes before half-time, while Balotelli appeared to struggle physically.
"Mario was playing his very first game. I really like the way he cuts across the pitch – he's got a real striker's style and he's got desire and enthusiasm," said Prandelli, the former Fiorentina manager. "The future is in his hands, just like Antonio."
With Fabio Cannavaro retired from the international game and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon recovering from back surgery, De Rossi was the captain. The centre-back Giorgio Chiellini was one of the few others left over from the World Cup side. "We've got less experience and a lower average age but a lot more enthusiasm," Chiellini said. "We were just unlucky tonight. We've got a new group and we're all trying to work together to get Italy back to the level where it belongs."