European qualifiers: Italy off to France with a game to spare

With Pirlo missing through muscular injury, Conte chose Verratti, Candreva and Parolo to make up his midfield. He opted for Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini and De Sciglio to make up the defensive line in front of Buffon’s goal. Eder, Pellè and El Shaarawy played up front. Knowing that a win would secure qualification, the Azzurri came out of the blocks fast and were determined to get a goal. It took them just 11 minutes. Verratti played a precise through ball to Eder, who beat Azerbaijan keeper Agayev from close range.
Italy’s second big chance came in the 16th minute when Pellè’s attempt was deflected by the keeper over the bar. Azerbaijan, who were unbeaten in their last four games with Prosinecki as head coach, reacted well and managed to score an equaliser courtesy of a mistake in the Azzurri defence. It was Nazarov who took advantage of this mix up, as the striker beat Buffon from inside the box.
Italy did not let their heads drop, and continued to push on in search of their second goal. El Shaarawy’s attempt from long range went narrowly over the bar in the 35th minute. It was El Shaarawy once again who had another good chance. The keeper failed in his attempt to come out and claim the ball, but the Italian striker was unable to keep his shot down and it went just over the bar. The goal was coming for Italy, and it duly came in the 43rd minute after El Shaarawy knocked the ball into an empty net following Candreva’s good work.
Italy took to the pitch with the same level of determination following the break. Eder had a huge chance in the 61st minute, but his lob was cleared off the line by Azerbaijan captain Sadygov (who was celebrating his 100th international cap). The Azzurri’s third goal came in the 65th minute thanks to a long shot from Darmian, who celebrated his first ever international goal. Conte then decided to make three substitutions, bringing on Florenzi, Giovinco and Montolivo in place of EL Shaarawy, Eder and Candreva. There was a red card in the final stages of the match for Azerbaijan’s Hüseynov, who attempted to stop Giovinco as he was breaking into the box. It was Toronto’s star player who stepped up for the resulting free kick, but his attempt crashed off the crossbar in the 89th minute. ]]>