By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Italy and Nigeria played out a thrilling 2-2 draw which included a goal-of-the-season contender from Shola Ameobi in an entertaining friendly at Fulham's Craven Cottage on Monday.
Italy dominated the game but the African champions, who joined their opponents at next year's World Cup on Saturday, produced a few magical touches and defended superbly as the Italians pounded their goal in search of a late winner.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli made eight changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Germany in a friendly on Friday and his side dominated the early stages after going ahead in the 12th minute when Mario Balotelli set up Giuseppe Rossi.
Rossi, shrugging off a bout of tonsillitis, showed great composure to shift the ball from one foot to the other before scoring.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi made seven changes from the team which sealed their World Cup place by beating Ethiopia.
The African side gradually played their way back into the game, Victor Moses troubling the Italian defense with bursts down both wings.
Nigeria equalized in the 35th minute when a deep raking cross from Ameobi was powerfully headed past goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu by Bright Dike.
That meant that the first two goals were scored by two players born one day apart in the United States on February1 and February 2, 1987. Rossi was born in New Jersey to Italian parents and Dike in Oklahoma to Nigerian parents.
There was nothing strange about the third goal though - just sheer brilliance.
Moses fed Francis Benjamin wide on the left with a perfect pass and his cross was volleyed in by the leaping Ameobi who slammed the ball into the net with the outside of his right foot.
Italy almost equalized when Balotelli lobbed the defense with an overhead kick, ran on to trap the ball and teed it up before volleying straight at goalkeeper Austine Ejide.
Italy drew level just after halftime when Emanuele Giaccherini put the final touch to a fine move involving Rossi and Antonio Candreva, powerfully driving the ball past Ejide.
The introduction of the experienced Andrea Pirlo into midfield after 53 minutes tipped the balance Italy's way and they went close to a winner as substitutes Marco Parolo and Alessandro Diamanti hit the woodwork and Diamanti crashed a free kick against the bar.
Italy have now only won one of their last 12 friendlies and drawn the last four.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)