Italy 2-0 Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland's run without a win was extended to 10 matches when they lost Tuesday's friendly in Campobasso.
Ranked outside Fifa's top 100, Sammy McIlroy's men were hardly expected to win, but they were seeking something to lift morale for the 11 June European qualifier against Spain.
McIlroy started with three debutants in Tommy Doherty, Chris Baird and Andy Smith and he will not have been too disheartened following a spirited NI display.
However, the Italians dominated the game and deservedly won through goals from Bernardo Corradi (30) and Marco Delvecchio (66).
Italy had almost grabbed the lead after 26 minutes when Fabio Grosso found Corradi with a cross from the left but the header went wide.
Four minutes later came that Italian opener when defender Massimo Oddo chipped
in a low cross from the right which was met by Lazio striker Corradi who swept
the ball home.
Oddo crossed from a similar position soon afterwards and, when the ball was not cleared properly, Fiore forced Maik Taylor into a brilliant save with a powerful shot from 20 yards.
The 22,500 sell-out crowd created a superb atmosphere as the Campbasso public got a opportunity to see their national side close-up.
Coach Giovanni Trapattoni has had his critics with Italy presently five points behind Wales in their European Championship qualifying group.
So, while he rested many of his big-name stars, Trapattoni still needed a good result and he will have been relieved to see substitute Delvecchio make it 2-0 midway through the second half.
A through ball from inside the Italian half split the NI defence and the Roma striker stroked a low shot past substitute keeper Roy Carroll.
Both sides made a series of substitutions, with Crewe's Steve Jones, Ciaran Toner of Leyton Orient and Portadown part-timer Gary Hamilton coming on to bring the number of NI debutants to six.
Jones almost scored in the 76th minute but his firm header from a right-wing free was saved by Francesco Toldo.
Italy: Toldo, Cannavaro, Grosso, Legrottaglie, Oddo, Ambrosini,
Fiore, Perrotta, Miccoli, Corradi, Di Vaio. Subs: Abbiati,
Bonera, Ferrari, Birindelli, Nervo, Tommasi, Di Natale,
Northern Ireland: Taylor, Griffin, McCartney, Hughes,
Kennedy, Baird, Johnson, Doherty, Healy, McVeigh, Smith.
Subs: Carroll, Williams, Craigan, McCann, Elliott, Toner, Jones,
Referee: Lucillo Baptista (Portugal).