ZURICH (AP) — Russia beat Italy 3-0 on Friday in the last warmup game before the European Championship to cap a dismal week for Italian football.
Italy was done in by uncharacteristically poor defending in the second half, as Alexander Kerzhakov broke the deadlock after he was left unmarked in the 60th minute. Another defensive mistake allowed Roman Shirokov to score into an empty net in the 76th following a mix-up between substitute goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis and Christian Maggio.
Maggio was again at fault for Russia's third, which Shirokov headed home in the 89th.
It was Italy's third straight loss, marking the first time since 1983 that the 2006 World Cup winners have suffered three defeats in a row. Another warmup match against Luxembourg was canceled on Tuesday after an earthquake hit the north of the country.
"Paradoxically it is better to have lost badly here," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "Like this we return with our feet on the ground. It's the third match in eight months, we have five to six days to work, to correct things. ... We'll recover in time.
"Obviously they were all distraught. But we told ourselves it was better everything happened tonight and then we can start again. ... For some people we had already won the European Championship, we were favorites. Instead we have to fight for every ball. That's what we told ourselves in the dressing room: we'll put everything back to zero and start again."
Italy was looking for a morale-boosting victory, with the country embroiled in another match-fixing scandal which saw 14 people arrested on Monday and forced Prandelli to drop Domenico Criscito from his squad after the defender was officially placed under investigation following a dawn raid on the Italian training camp.
"It's difficult to play in this climate," Prandelli said. "You could see the fragility of the squad when we went behind. I was surprised by the defense. I have try something to give them more security in defense, It's true that we let in only two goals in the qualifiers but that was eight months ago."
There were positives to take from the match as Italy looked dangerous in attack with the untried pairing of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, who were playing together for only the second time. The duo last played together for an hour in a three-pronged attack against the Ivory Coast in August 2010.
But Italy has now gone 300 minutes without scoring a goal.
"I know it's hard to find something positive when you lose 3-0 but in the first half we handled the battle with a physical squad well, especially as they're further ahead of us in their preparations," Prandelli said. "We controlled the game in the first 12 minutes of the second half too, with a lot of chances. Then we were drained after the first goal. We have to understand if that's a mental problem or a physical one."
It was Cassano's first match for Italy since he fell ill in October and had minor heart surgery that kept him out for five months.
However, the Azzurri were exposed over and over again at the back and clearly missed Giorgio Chiellini, who is out with a thigh injury but should recover in time for the first match against world and European champions Spain on June 10.
It was not helped when goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was forced off at halftime with a minor shoulder injury and was replaced by De Sanctis.
Italy was keen to put the events of the past week behind them and almost got off to the best possible start after a one-two between Daniele De Rossi and Cassano saw the Roma midfielder volley just wide.
Russia also could have taken an early lead when Kerzhakov sent a low shot crashing off the left-hand post.
The partnership of Balotelli and Cassano was looking dangerous and the former went close when he curled in a shot from outside the area which flew just past the left post.
Italy should have gone in front in the 25th minute as De Rossi controlled Andrea Pirlo's long ball well and put in a low cross which Balotelli was millimeters away from connecting with in front of an open goal.
Russia then had three good opportunities to take the lead as first Konstantin Zyryanov blazed Andrey Arshavin's cross over from 12 yards before the same player saw a powerful effort graze the outside of the left post.
Zyryanov also had a shot well parried by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon at his right post.
Cassano and Balotelli again combined well shortly after the break when the Manchester City striker found Cassano, who controlled the ball on his chest but volleyed just over.
The Azzurri should have broken the deadlock when Balotelli put in a low cross which evaded the Russia defense but Cassano mishit his effort from yards out.
Instead, Russia went ahead moments later as Leonardo Bonucci left Kerzhakov unmarked and he rifled home from 15 yards.
Russia doubled its lead in the 75th as a mix-up between Maggio and De Sanctis saw the ball fall to Shirokov, who fired into an empty net.
And there was worse to come. Alexander Kokorin put in a diagonal pass into the area and Maggio deflected it onto Shirokov, who was right next to him, and the Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder headed it home as boos rang out among the Italy fans.