Alessandro Florenzi and Mario Balotelli had to fight back twice for Italy’s 2-2 draw with Armenia, which concludes World Cup qualifying.
The Azzurri were already qualified for the World Cup, but a win would guarantee top seed status in the Finals draw. Now they’ll have to wait for South American results.
Gigi Buffon was rested and Daniele De Rossi injured, while the experiments continued in defence. Lorenzo Insigne started in his hometown stadium, the San Paolo in Naples, but there were only two remaining from the XI that drew 2-2 with Denmark on Friday. Cesare Prandelli’s men are unbeaten in their last 39 European and World Cup qualifiers, winning 11 on the trot at home. They won 3-1 in Armenia in October 2012, the only previous meeting between these nations.
Armenia had the chance to go second in the group during this final match and nearly scored after three minutes when Yura Movsisyan pounced on a Davide Astori error on the edge of the box.
It was only a warning, as moments later Movsisyan intercepted another poor Alberto Aquilani backpass for Astori and ran into the box via a huge gap in the defence, placing his angled drive across Federico Marchetti.
Dani Osvaldo horribly wasted a good opportunity by curling well wide from 12 yards after a Riccardo Montolivo through ball, but Karlen Mkrtchyan blasted over when the Italy defence was again torn apart with no protection from the midfield.
Insigne got down the left with good work only for Aquilani to balloon off target from the edge of the box. The first Napoli player to represent Italy at the San Paolo in 23 years had a fantastic scoring opportunity, as his snapshot from the edge of the area cracked against the upright and the goalkeeper somehow kept it out, blocking Osvaldo’s follow-up.
Italy equalised with a well-worked move. Osvaldo harried a defender into giving up possession, Insigne chipped a cross up and Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi rose above Robert Arzumanyan to nod in at the near post. It was the 22-year-old’s debut senior Italy goal at the fourth cap.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan burst past Leonardo Bonucci only to drag his shot across the face of goal, while Marchetti smothered an Aras Ozbiliz effort.
Insigne almost scored an absolutely stunning goal in his home town, as he had his back to goal down the left when he left a defender for dead with a backheel flick and immediately smashed an angled drive inches past the far post. Moments later he attempted a spectacular volley from Ignazio Abate’s cross that wasn’t far off target.
Before the break Insigne fired at the goalkeeper, while Marchetti had to sprint off his line to clear from a weak Abate backpass.
Mario Balotelli replaced Osvaldo and immediately set up Insigne for a shot parried at the near post, then the Napoli starlet returned the favour for a scuffed finish into the goalkeeper’s arms. Insigne didn’t get a clean shot away from another Balotelli assist, so it bounced off the chest of Roman Berezovski.
Italy were in control, but Armenia remained dangerous on the counter and restored their lead with an utterly avoidable goal. Marchetti didn’t control a harmless pass and let it out for a corner, then was uncertain as it was curled in and Mkhitaryan’s header went in off the underside of the bar. It bounced back out, but had clearly crossed the line.
Giuseppe Rossi replaced Aquilani for his first Italy cap since October 2011, forming a 4-2-3-1. It was Balotelli who got the Azzurri back on level terms, as he ran on to a Pirlo through ball and swept in off the top of the upright with the inside of his right foot.
Moments later, Balotelli’s free kick from 30 yards was palmed out for a corner and he had the ball in the net from an Insigne cross, but only after clearly shoving his marker. The defence remained shambolic and Montolivo had to clear a Mkhitaryan header in the six-yard box.
Insigne tested the goalkeeper in the final minutes and in stoppages Balotelli surged forward alone from his own half only for the finish to shave a coat of paint off the far post.
Italy 2-2 Armenia
Scorers: Movsisyan 5 (A), Florenzi 24 (I), Mkhitaryan 70 (A), Balotelli 76 (I)
Italy: Marchetti; Abate, Astori, Bonucci, Pasqual; Aquilani (Rossi 73), Pirlo, Montolivo; Florenzi (Candreva 60), Osvaldo (Balotelli 54), Insigne
Armenia: Berezovski; Mkoyan, Haroyan, Arzumanyan, Hayrapetyan (Hovhannisyan 63); K Mkrtchyan, A Edigaryan (Pizzelli 89); Ozbiliz (Sarkisov 78), Ghazaryan, Mkhitaryan; Movsisyan
Ref: Oliver (ENG)