LONDON (AP) — Italy was held to a 0-0 draw by Ireland in a World Cup warm-up match Saturday that saw the Azzurri lose key midfielder Riccardo Montolivo to a broken leg which will rule him out of the tournament in Brazil.
Reading fullback Alex Pearce fouled Montolivo in the ninth minute and the AC Milan player immediately knew what was wrong. Montolivo could be seen saying “it’s broken” as fellow players and medical staff hovered around him anxiously while he was still lying on the pitch.
“Montolivo has what we suspected, a broken tibia,” Italy physician Enrico Castellacci said. “I haven’t seen the X-ray yet to evaluate the extent of it but for a broken bone you can expect surgery.”
Making matters worse, Montolivo’s replacement Alberto Aquilani also left before halftime complaining of dizziness after knocking heads with a defender.
Both Montolivo and Aquilani were brought to a local hospital for tests. In Aquilani’s case, the tests showed he was not seriously injured.
With Italy coach Cesare Prandelli resting regular starters like Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon, it was an unconvincing performance for the Azzurri.
“Unfortunately it was a match marred by injuries,” Prandelli said. “It’s difficult to analyze the match in technical terms when two players are injured. … Right now we’re all a bit dazed. It’s not easy to swallow this.”
Montolivo was making his 58th appearance with Italy.
“Montolivo has become a reference point over the years,” Prandelli said. “He’s done so silently but he’s a player with a strong personality inside the changing room — and that’s also why his teammates were in shock.”
Ireland came closest to scoring when Stephen Quinn hit the crossbar in the 78th.
The positive notes for Italy were reserve goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, who made several key saves playing in place of Buffon, and forward Antonio Cassano, who came on in the second half for his first national team appearance since the 2012 European Championship final.
Giuseppe Rossi, who is pushing to make Prandelli’s final 23-man squad after a long injury layoff, played 71 minutes and also created a couple of chances.
“Physically, I feel good,” Rossi said. “It’s not up to me to say what happens now. My job is to play and give my all.”
However, Prandelli wasn’t so convinced before deciding on his 23-man squad Sunday.
“It’s a little complicated to discuss Rossi’s performance in detail,” the coach said. “Everyone was frozen after what happened. We need to be very, very rational.”
Midfielder Marco Parolo also had a strong performance at Fulham’s Craven Cottage.
“Let’s see how we recuperate tomorrow then we’ll make our decisions,” Prandelli said.
Italy threatened early but then appeared distracted by Montolivo’s injury.
Serie A scoring leader Ciro Immobile wasted a chance four minutes in with only the goalkeeper to beat when he failed to control a cross. Two minutes later, a long shot from Claudio Marchisio was tipped wide by Ireland goalkeeper David Forde.
When Montolivo was fouled by Reading fullback Alex Pearce in the ninth, he initially attempted to play on then collapsed to the pitch in pain.
Italy appeared rattled by the injury and Sirigu had to bat away a dangerous free kick from Anthony Pilkington in the 22nd.
Seconds later at the other end, Rossi set up Matteo Darmian but the fullback — making his national team debut — shot way wide.
Sirigu then made a series of saves on Pilkington and Shane Long.
Immobile had a goal annulled for offside in the 55th then was replaced five minutes later by Cassano.
In the 61st, Leonardo Bonucci met a corner from Marco Verratti with a header that sailed high.
Cassano’s entry provided Italy with better organization and he set up Marchisio inside the area in the 66th but the Juventus midfielder could only get off a weak shot that Forde smothered.
Italy next hosts Luxembourg in Perugia on Wednesday then flies out to Brazil a day later.
Drawn into Group D at the World Cup, Italy opens against England on June 14 then faces Costa Rica on June 20 and Uruguay on June 24.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.