Antonio Candreva’s goal proved enough as Italy grabbed a precious 1-0 win in Albania that makes them top seeds in the World Cup play-off draw.
See how it all unfolded with the fans giving their views on the Liveblog.
The Azzurri were already in the World Cup play-offs ahead of this final group game, but needed a victory to be guaranteed the status of top seeds in the draw. Giampiero Ventura came under fire after the dismal 1-1 with Macedonia and dropped the 3-4-3 experiment for a return to 4-2-4, though was still missing injured Andrea Barzagli, Andrea Belotti, Marco Verratti, Daniele De Rossi, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Claudio Marchisio.
When these sides clashed in Palermo back in March, Italy won 2-0 thanks to Daniele De Rossi’s penalty and Ciro Immobile. The atmosphere was fiery, both anthems loudly jeered by the crowd.
Gigi Buffon had to smother long-range early efforts from Napoli full-back Elseid Hysaj and Eros Grezda, while Immobile had the first Italian shot parried at the near post by Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha on 21 minutes.
Matteo Darmian’s audacious volley was off target and Eder drilled wide of the near post after Buffon caught an Armando Sadiku counter-attack.
Italy had very strong penalty appeals on 40 minutes when Eder’s cross for Immobile was cut out by Frederic Veseli’s hand, but the referee waved play on.
Moments later, Insigne was brought down right on the edge of the area, but again there was no foul given. The Napoli star cut in from the left flank and curled just over the bar with his right boot.
On the stroke of half-time, Immobile ran on to a long ball and his half-volley thumped the side-netting.
Straight after the restart, Buffon parried an Odise Roshi snapshot into the air for a corner, then Insigne’s intelligent through ball was sending Antonio Candreva clear until Ansi Agolli at full stretch intercepted for a corner.
Immobile had another attempt deflected at the near post, but Eder should’ve given Italy the lead on the counter, but opted to blast over the bar rather than pass to Immobile or Candreva in better positions. Insigne’s solo attempt was accurate, but too weak at the near post to beat.
Grezda forced a very tough save from Buffon, beating away the dipping shot after the Albanian was given too much time and space to pull the trigger.
Parolo fired over and Eder straight at Berisha from the edge of the penalty area, but the Azzurri finally found a way through on 73 minutes.
Leonardo Spinazzola’s floated cross from the left found Candreva at the back post, where he controlled and smashed the volley under the bar from a tight angle.
Giorgio Chiellini risked an own goal to make a decisive interception from four yards on Laridon Latifi’s excellent cross, while in stoppages Leonardo Bonucci charged down a Hysaj solo effort.
It should’ve been 2-0 on the counter, but Immobile was denied one-on-one by Berisha and Candreva fired the follow-up over.
Albania 0-1 Italy
Candreva 73 (I)
Albania: Berisha; Hysaj, Veseli, Mavraj, Agolli; Kace, Basha (Lila 68); Roshi (Ahmedi 90), Memushaj (Latifi 76), Grezda; Sadiku
Italy: Buffon; Darmian (Zappacosta 61), Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola; Parolo, Gagliardini; Candreva, Immobile, Eder (Gabbiadini 89), Insigne (El Shaarawy 92)
Ref: Moen (NOR)