Grosso to rescue

Mirko Vucinic of Serbia and Montenegro cuts in front of an Italian defender as he moves into...

Mirko Vucinic of Serbia and Montenegro cuts in front of an Italian defender as he moves into position for a shot on goal during a soccer friendly at the Rogers Centre last night. (Toronto Sun/Greg Henkenhaf)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Italian midfielder Fabio Grosso made a spectacular move late in the game to set up Cristiano Lucarelli and give his national side a well-deserved 1-1 draw against Serbia and Montenegro last night at the Rogers Centre.

Grosso tucked the ball between a Serbian defender's legs and crossed it to Serie A goal-scoring wonder Lucarelli, who redirected the pass into the net in the 83rd minute of action.

A couple of minutes later, Italy's Simone Barone hammered a shot from only a few yards out, right at Serbia goalkeeper Oliver Kovacevic. The Italians, down one player, buzzed all around the Serbia and Montenegro end as the clock wound down, but couldn't put away the winner.

Save for three idiotic Serbia supporters who ran on to the field late in the game, the match was a hard-fought friendly and there was plenty of enthusiasm inside the Rogers Centre from the 22,138 in attendance, despite the fact that neither European soccer powerhouse brought anything close to its top national side. However, starting young players fighting for jobs on the World Cup team insured a solid 90 minutes of soccer.

"It was a man's game," Italy coach Marcello Lippi said. "I was happy with the team's performance."

The Italians dressed only one player, Palermo midfielder Grosso, who took part in the World Cup qualifying match in Oslo on Saturday, a 0-0 draw with Norway, and he didn't start.

The one truly exciting player who made the trip overseas for the Azzurri, Lucarelli, didn't start, but did come in for the second half. The 29-year-old striker had 29 goals for Livorno this season. Lucarelli made his presence felt right away with a strong strike on goalkeeper Kovacevic in the second half, before scoring the tying goal.

The Serbs did start their star striker, Mirko Vucinic, who picked up 19 goals in Serie A this season for Lecce and his best chance came on a free kick just outside the penalty area at the 55-minute mark. Vucinic, however, shot the ball high.

The Serbs broke through Italy's stifling defence at the 25-minute mark when midfielder Dragan Mladenovic sent Nikola Zigic in on Italian goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi with a long pass down the middle. Zigic took the pass on the run, beating Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini to the ball, cut to his right past Peruzzi and shot into the open net.

At 35 minutes, Italy was left with 10 men after Manuele Blasi picked up his second yellow card and was ejected.

The Serbs escaped a similar fate early in the second half when Nenad Brnovic tackled Carmine Coppola to the ground at midfield and, for whatever reason, did not pick up a yellow or red card.

Both teams are doing well in World Cup qualifying. Italy is all alone in first in Group 5, with four wins, a draw and one defeat for 13 points, four points ahead of Norway and Slovenia. Spain has 13 points to lead Group 7 with Serbia and Montenegro, which is one point behind with 12.


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