European qualifiers: Italy beat Malta and sit at the top of the group

Florence can applaud the Azzurri, who put in a determined performance that earned them an important result ahead of the upcoming qualifier against Bulgaria in Palermo. On the eve of the match, Conte was unsure about who he would pick to start. In the end, he chose an attacking trio of Gabbiadini, Pellè and Eder, while the defence was made up of Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini and Pasqual, with Buffon in goal. The midfield consisted of Pirlo, Verratti and Bertolacci. Just ahead of kick-off, a minute’s silence was observed for the recent tragedies involving migrants in Europe, as announced by FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio in the afternoon before the match. The Azzurri, who were wearing their new Puma away shirt, went after the three points from the very first whistle, but found Malta to be resolute in defence. Malta head coach Ghedin set out a side with a strong defence that Italy found hard to break down, with Malta’s defenders repeatedly doubling up on their Italian counterparts, who struggled going forward as a result. Italy went close to opening the scoring through Eder, who ran from midfield and fired a low drive from the edge of the box just wide of the post. Malta also had their own chance to take the lead when Effiong’s curled shot went just wide of Buffon’s far post. The first half ended goalless and ten minutes after the break, Conte decided to bring on Parolo in place of Bertolacci, the Lazio midfielder being involved straight away when he only just failed to divert a low cross into the net. Italy then started to pile on the pressure, Gabbiadini going very close on 58 minutes when he hit the bar with a superb effort from outside the area. The breakthrough goal came eleven minutes later through Graziano Pellè, whose close-range header beat Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg. Italy made their third and final change in the 77th minute when Soriano replaced Verratti. The Azzurri then controlled the game in the final stages of the match, although Malta went close to grabbing an equaliser when Effiong hit the post, however play had already been stopped for offside. It was to be the final highlight of the match before the Slovakian referee Kruzliak blew the final whistle to confirm three important points for Italy. ]]>