International friendlies round-up: Mario Balotelli scores in Italy win

Mario Balotelli took just 21 minutes to find the net for Italy on his return to the side as they beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in a friendly on Monday.

The striker made his first appearance for the national side in nearly four years to give new coach Roberto Mancini a winning start after Italy missed out on World Cup qualification for the first time since 1958.

Balotelli broke the deadlock after 21 minutes, twisting past a defender before beating goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais with a low shot from outside the area.

Substitute Andrea Belotti extended Italy’s lead in the 69th minute, scoring at the second attempt after his powerful downward header was parried by Al-Owais.

Saudi Arabia, who face Russia, Egypt and Uruguay in their World Cup group, had not offered the slightest threat until that point but suddenly burst into life.

Davide Zappacosta lost possession on the halfway line and the ball was quickly slipped to Yahya Al Shehri who sped past the onrushing Gianluigi Donnarumma and scored into an empty net in the 72nd minute.

Portugal’s defensive frailties were again exposed as Tunisia hit back from two goals behind to hold the European champions to a 2-2 draw.

Portugal, who rested captain and leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo after he played in Saturday’s Champions League final for Real Madrid, went ahead through an Andre Silva header from Ricardo Quaresma’s pinpoint cross in the 22nd minute.

Midfielder Joao Mario doubled the lead when he rifled in a shot from outside the penalty area and Portugal, who face Spain, Morocco and Iran in their World Cup group, seemed to be in control.

The cracks began to appear five minutes later, however, when Anice Badri was left alone inside the penalty area to fire past Anthony Lopes and pull one back for Tunisia who face England, Panama and Belgium in their World Cup group.

Portugal then failed to properly clear a free kick in the 64th minute and when the ball was played back in, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef got between four defenders to slide the ball home with the hosts appealing in vain for offside.

France got their preparations off to a winning start as they beat the Republic of Ireland 2-0 in Paris, with Olivier Giroud and Nabil Fekir scoring for the hosts.

Tottenham forward Son Heung-min scored a screamer as South Korea beat Honduras 2-0 in their opening World Cup warm-up match on Monday.

Son thumped a thunderous shot off his left foot to put South Korea ahead in the 60th minute, before Moon Seon-min capped his international debut with their second goal on 72 minutes.

The win will give encouragement to South Korea’s coach Shin Tae-yong, who took over last June after Uli Stielike’s sacking and is facing a tough Group F at the World Cup.

South Korea will play Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday, who themselves were held to a 0-0 draw by Montenegro. The team included Miralem Pjanic and captain Edin Dzeko, but neither could inspire the hosts to a victory.

World Cup-bound Nigeria showed early promise but were held to a 1-1 friendly draw by DR Congo at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt.

William Troost-Ekong was the unlikely scorer for the Super Eagles, the Dutch-born Bursaspor defender slotting home a loose ball after Kelechi Iheanacho tried to latch on to a clever free kick by skipper Ogenyi Onazi.

DR Congo enjoyed more possession over the 90 minutes but it took the visitors until 12 minutes from the end to draw level, Issam Mpeko slotting home a penalty after substitute defender Ola Aina’s foul in the box.

Everton striker Cenk Tosun scored twice for Turkey as they beat Iran 2-1 in their international friendly in Istanbul, although the hosts ended the game with ten men.

It took six minutes for Tosun to net his opener before adding a second in the 50th minute, but World Cup hopefuls Iran pulled back a late penalty through Ashkan Dejagah after Omer Bayram was sent off for handball in the box.

Elsewhere, Kenya beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 at the Kenyatta Stadium, although they left it fairly late, with Pistone Mutamba’s 73rd minute strike enough to seal the friendly win.