Ciro Immobile’s header proved enough for Italy to squeeze past Israel 1-0, but it was another poor performance for the 4-2-4 system.
After the 3-0 defeat to Spain, the Azzurri had to focus on securing a World Cup play-off spot and stuck with the 4-2-4 system. Andrea Conti (on his senior debut) and Davide Astori stepped in for suspended Leonardo Bonucci and injured Leonardo Spinazzola, though Giorgio Chiellini was still unavailable. Israel were fresh from a 1-0 home defeat to Macedonia, banned captain Eran Zahavi for 12 months for throwing his armband down and missed injured Ben Bitton and Tomer Hamed.
Israel had never beaten Italy, managing one draw and three losses, in which they scored three goals and conceded 13. Their last encounter ended 3-1 in Haifa in September 2016.
These sides met only once on Italian soil, a 6-0 Italy victory in Turin on November 4, 1961, with Omar Sivori bagging four goals.
Andrea Belotti almost broke the deadlock within 40 seconds, drilling just wide from a Matteo Darmian assist. Daniele De Rossi blasted over and when Astori hesitated, Etey Shechter shoved him into Gigi Buffon.
There were already jeers from the crowd within 15 minutes, as the possession was sterile and passing slow. The grumbles grew when Marwan Kabha burst through the middle of the defence and Conti needed a great sliding block to stop him from 12 yards.
There was an even bigger risk moments later, Buffon denying Shechter from point-blank range, although the striker was offside.
De Rossi ballooned another effort into the stands and Marco Verratti was booked, so will be suspended for the next Italy match.
Buffon needed a fine save to palm Almog Cohen’s snapshot out from under the bar, then from the resulting corner Cohen was offside when netting.
Insigne finally had a chance on the stroke of half-time, controlling a lofted cross to force Ariel Harush into a save with his leg at the back post from point-blank range.
Inevitably, the Azzurri were jeered off the pitch at half-time, as with over 70 per cent possession, they were sluggish and left the strikers isolated.
After the restart, De Rossi’s strike was charged down and Immobile nodded wide from four yards, then Belotti won back possession to spark a counter, which saw Immobile’s cross-shot parried by Harush at the near stick.
Conti limped off, replaced by new Chelsea signing Davide Zappacosta. Italy were certainly livelier than in the first half and broke the deadlock when Antonio Candreva’s impressive cross was steered in at the far post by Immobile’s head from a tight angle.
Zappacosta had to sprint back for a crucial interception on Tal Ben Chaim in a two-on-one situation, then had a chance himself with a ferocious strike deflected just wide.
Belotti thought he’d scored on 68 minutes, but his downward header was palmed off the line with one hand by a remarkable Harush save.
Another Belotti header whistled just wide, then he got on the end of Candreva’s through ball and was denied by another Harush reaction save.
Ben Chaim attempted a repeat of the lob he scored in the away leg, but this time Buffon was ready for it after Astori’s slip. Verratti made way for Riccardo Montolivo in the final minute and was jeered by portions of the crowd.
Italy 1-0 Israel
Immobile 53 (It)
Italy: Buffon; Conti (Zappacosta 48), Barzagli, Astori, Darmian; Verratti (Montolivo 89), De Rossi; Candreva (Bernardeschi 86), Belotti, Immobile, Insigne
Israel: Harush; Davidzada, Ben Haim, Tzedek, Keljtens; Cohen (Einbinder 77), Natcho, Kabha; Melikson (Ben Chaim 62), Refaelov; Shecter (Benayoun 69)
Ref: Bastien (FRA)