November 14, 2012

PARMA, Italy (AP) -- France came back from a goal down to beat Italy 2-1 Wednesday in a high-profile international, sending the Azzurri to their sixth consecutive friendly defeat.

After Stephen El Shaarawy gave Italy the lead in the 35th minute, Mathieu Valbuena equalized for France two minutes later and substitute Bafetimbi Gomis scored the winner in the 67th.

Italy striker Mario Balotelli hit the crossbar with a long-range shot in the 10th and teammate Emanuele Giaccherini also struck the goal-frame in the 86th.

Italy played without top goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, with Paris Saint-Germain's Salvatore Sirigu instead starting the match. Also, midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo only came on in the 49th.

In its previous five friendlies, Italy was beaten by Poland, Uruguay, the United States, Russia and England.

In official matches lately, it's been a different story for the Azzurri, which reached the final of this year's European Championship. Italy has also won three of its opening four qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, drawing the other.

"We need to be ready when it counts,'' Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "We need to focus on qualifying and experiment in these matches. ... We shouldn't lose, though.''

France was eliminated by reigning world and European champion Spain at Euro 2012, but has made a good start to World Cup qualifying, beating Finland and Belarus before drawing 1-1 away to Spain last month thanks to substitute Olivier Giroud's last-gasp header.

"We achieved a great result here in Italy, against the runners-up in Europe, a side with a lot of quality, even though they lacked some key players today,'' France coach Didier Dechamps said. "It's our last match of the calendar year, and finishing with a victory over the Azzurri helps put us on the right road toward the World Cup and to move up in the FIFA rankings.''

El Shaarawy's goal was the product of a series of swift vertical passes. It started with defender Andrea Barzagli giving the ball to Balotelli, who in turn passed it to Montolivo, who then found El Shaarawy striding toward the goal.

The son of an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, it was the 20-year-old El Shaarawy's first goal for Italy and his 13th in all competitions this season with AC Milan and Italy's under-21 side.

However, Marseille's Valbuena quickly equalized by dribbling by PSG's Marco Verratti and Barzagli in an impressive solo action before firing past Sirigu.

While Antonio Candreva threatened a few times for Italy, Lyon's Gomis then gave France the lead after redirecting a pass from Patrice Evra by the post.

Key France winger Franck Ribery exited with an apparent physical problem in the 64th.

The match was dedicated to the 24 victims of back-to-back earthquakes in May in the Emilia region surrounding Parma. Italy's friendly with Luxembourg in May slated for Parma was canceled due to one of the quakes.

Also, 5,000 female fans received free tickets to the Tardini stadium as part of an initiative against violence toward women.

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