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Soccer-Pedro eclipses debutant Costa as Spain down Italy

Reuters

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By Iain Rogers

MADRID, March 5 (Reuters) - Diego Costa made a low-key debut for Spain in a friendly against Italy on Wednesday and it was the much livelier Pedro who struck the only goal in a 1-0 victory for the world and European champions.

All eyes were on Brazil-born Costa at Atletico Madrid's Calderon Stadium, where he plays his club football, but although he linked up well at times with his new team mates he did not come close to finding the net.

The heavyweight clash between the last two nations to win the World Cup was predictably dominated by the Spanish and they were rewarded in the 63rd minute when Pedro was first to a loose ball and fired in off Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said he was happy with Costa's performance.

"We had periods where we played very well and they also had one or two chances," Del Bosque said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Telecinco.

"We played in a lively manner, the ball circulated well and we were watchful when Italy attacked," he added.

"Everyone gave their all and Diego (Costa) will get used to the way we play as time goes by. There is no player who can have a negative impact on the way Spain play."

The match kicked off at 2200 local time and although there were swathes of empty seats, there was a festive atmosphere at the 55,000-capacity arena next to the Manzanares river.

A huge banner was unfurled before kickoff in homage to late former Spain coach Luis Aragones, the man who helped lay the foundations for a glorious run of success by leading the nation to victory at Euro 2008.

SKILLFUL WORK

Spain threatened in the second minute when Andres Iniesta sent Jordi Alba through on the left.

The visitors almost grabbed a surprise lead two minutes later when Alessio Cerci sped down the right and his mis-hit cross-shot bounced away off a post.

Cesc Fabregas should have done better after Cesar Azpilicueta found space on the right for the first time in the 25th minute but the Barcelona playmaker skewed his first-time shot over the bar.

Thiago Alcantara, deployed in the central playmaker's role instead of the rested Xavi, was denied by a superb Buffon save when he was through on goal early in the second half and substitute David Silva fired wide when well placed.

More skilful work from Iniesta and Silva led to Pedro's goal, the Barca forward's 14th for Spain on his 38th appearance.

Italy, missing several regulars including injured striker Mario Balotelli, barely troubled keeper Iker Casillas or second-half replacement Victor Valdes.

Andrea Pirlo, another second-half substitute, swung in a dangerous corner in stoppage time which Xabi Alonso headed to safety and Jesus Navas stung Buffon's hands in Spain's final attack.

"It is obvious that Spain are far superior," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, whose side were knocked out of last year's Confederations Cup by Spain after a penalty shootout, told a news conference.

"I was expecting a bit more from my players in terms of their physical performance," he added.

"The team is not in the right condition to be able to press high up the pitch.

"It was clear that Spain were physically stronger tonight but there is time to recuperate before the World Cup. I am not worried because there is still time to put it right."

A repeat of the Euro 2012 final in Kiev won 4-0 by the Spanish, it was the 33rd meeting between the sides and each has won 10 with 13 draws. (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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