Azzurri slowly getting there: Ventura
A NARROW, last-gasp win at Macedonia kept Italy on pace to securing a place at the 2018 World Cup, with fans readying for plenty of suffering in most of the seven remaining qualifiers.
Good news, however, came on Sunday from Ciro Immobile, who completed a brace in stoppage time after Andrea Belotti opened the scoring with his first goal for the Azzurri in a heated 3-2 win.
As they did on Thursday in Turin, rallying to draw 1-1 with Spain, the Azzurri had to get in trouble before switching to serious action, this time managing to reverse a 2-1 deficit in the last half hour – striking twice in two minutes.
Italy have seven points from three games in Group G, sitting second on goal difference behind Spain.
Only first place gives direct access to the World Cup in Russia, while eight second-placed from the nine European groups go into play-off ties.
In Skopje, coach Giampiero Ventura was seen furiously screaming but also helplessly shaking his head as the Azzurri blanked out around the hour, suffering under the hosts’ swift counter-attacks.
He blamed moments of “inexperience and carelessness” on a squad that started with five players aged less than 25.
Playmaker Marco Verratti and Federico Bernardeschi disappointed in midfield, and at the back Mattia De Sciglio and Alessio Romagnoli struggled alongside veterans Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci.
Overall, good marks only went to the 22-year-old Belotti and Immobile, 26. Both have also been effective in domestic action – Belotti netting five goals for Torino and Immobile four for Lazio.
The pair, who played together under Ventura at Torino, look set to replace Eder and Graziano Pelle, who was dropped from the squad after refusing to shake hands with Ventura when subbed in Turin.
Most commentators agreed with Ventura as he noted that “there was a great response in terms of character” and that his squad “are getting there slowly.”
But the Azzurri’s performance was generally deemed disappointing and close to a colossal poor figure.
“In the end we took home three points playing with our soul and heart,” said goalkeeping captain Gianluigi Buffon.
“These days we are being rewarded generously. Evidently we deserve it.”
Italy play their next qualifier at Lichtenstein on Nov 12; three days later they welcome Germany in Milan for a high-profile friendly. – dpa