Giorgio Chiellini scored a brace for Italy and an own goal as the Azzurri survived late drama to beat Group H minnows Azerbaijan 2-1 on Friday in the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Simone Zaza and Ciro Immobile started upfront while Marco Veratti, Thiago Motta, Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo all pulled out with injuries. Andrea Pirlo got his 113th international cap to jump to the third place in the all-time list for appearances ahead of 1982 World Cup winning captain Dino Zoff.
Italy continued their winning streak under new coach Antonio Conte at the Stadio Barbera in Palermo and recorded three consecutive wins for the first time since October 2012.
“In all honesty, I have little to complain about, other than the fact the players weren’t determined enough in front of goal,” Conte told Rai Sport after the game.
“Azerbaijan didn’t have a shot other than the goal and scored out of nowhere with that bundle over the line. We reacted well, proving this team has what it takes.”
Conte’s decision to bring on Sebastian Giovinco made the difference as the Juventus man set up the winning goal and looked lively in his cameo appearance.
Speaking to Sky Italia at the end of the game Giovinco said“We obtained an important victory, it was important to us. The words “give up” aren’t in our vocabulary. Maybe we weren’t concrete enough in front of goal, we needed to be more daring. It’s too bad I hit the cross bar.”
Giorgio Chiellini looked visibly relieved after the game and said, “It would’ve been a real shame, as we risked compromising a victory that was fully deserved.”
“Considering how we’ve started this new era, it was only right to continue winning and the performance deserved it. We are hard-working and enthusiastic. We made some mistakes in our finishing today, but had the right attitude. The ball emerged from nowhere and I couldn’t get out of the way. Oh well, I did everything tonight, good and bad!”
Andrea Pirlo who got an assist for the first goal felt the victory was well deserved but hard earned as well. “By now I am accustomed to being man-marked. It’s tough to play, but the important thing is that the team won. We knew Azerbaijan would clam up and it was dangerous when they equalised, as we had the chances to finish off the game earlier.”
Strike pair Ciro Immobile and Simone Zaza reflected on the game last night.
“It was a good game, as playing in Europe you have to fight for every ball to bring home the result. Plus Giorgio was on fire!” Immobile told Rai Sport.
“At the moment the Coach is choosing us, we are trying to give our best and you can’t score in every game, but the important thing is that the Nazionale wins. We are all here to help the team. We could’ve finished off the game earlier and had chances, but the important thing is that the team won. The support from the crowd was extraordinary and we all stayed behind after the final whistle to thank them. We need Italy to return to being what it was before and the fans are really helping.”
“This evening my father told me I’d be playing alongside Pirlo and I said ‘I know!’ I had never met him before and was accustomed to watching him on TV.” Zaza told Rai Sport.
“It was tough today, as we were facing a side that wasn’t very strong, but was very defensive and used two midfielders to block us off in attack. We did well to get the second goal quickly. It’s true, I haven’t scored since against Norway. Unfortunately I’m having a difficult time at my club and hope it’ll be different when I return. I won’t get downhearted, as I know what I can do and haven’t been in physically great shape recently, so haven’t shown my best yet.”
Torino defender Matteo Darmian admitted Italy struggled last night but was happy to see them eventually get the win and commented on his special return to the Renzo Barbera. “We did well when we reacted to their goal, we could have closed the match earlier. We however had a strong performance overall in my opinion, we did excellent things. The win was deserved.”
“Palermo for me is a special city, it was a season spent in a positive manner in which we reached important objectives.”
Antonio Conte has won all three games in charge so far, scoring six goals and conceding one.