Italy maintained their perfect start to Euro 2020 qualifying, but found Andrea Belotti’s brace and a 3-1 win away to 10-men Armenia tougher than expected.
The Azzurri earned a fifth straight victory in Euro 2020 qualifying Group J, having conceded only one goal so far against Bosnia. They visited third-placed Armenia, who were fresh from a 3-2 win away to Greece with new Roma loan signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Roberto Mancini had numerous injuries to deal with, missing the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Spinazzola, Lorenzo Insigne, Cristiano Biraghi, Mattia De Sciglio, Cristiano Piccini, Bryan Cristante and Leonardo Pavoletti. Alessio Romagnoli therefore reunited his Milan partnership with Leonardo Bonucci, while Andrea Belotti started in attack because Torino have already played six Europa League qualifiers this summer and he was more match fit.
These nations had met only twice before, a 3-1 Italy away victory and 2-2 draw at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples for 2014 World Cup qualifying.
The hosts had a bright start, Gianluigi Donnarumma comfortably dealt with scuffed Aleksandre Karapetyan and Ghazaryan efforts, taking the lead after 11 minutes.
Nicolò Barella was caught in possession by a high Armenian press, Barseghyan went on a rapid counter and threaded through for Karapetyan’s precise angled drive. It was only the second goal Italy had conceded in qualifying.
Federico Bernardeschi spun round from 12 yards and was curling into the far bottom corner, but Aram Airapetyan made a spectacular fingertip save to push it round the post.
Marco Verratti was the only player at risk of a ban and was booked 25 minutes in for a row with Karapetyan, so will be suspended against Finland in Tampere on Sunday evening.
Italy got back on level terms when Emerson Palmieri turned a defender inside out on the left and swept in the ideal cross for Andrea Belotti to tap in at the back post.
Moments later, it was almost 2-1 to the Azzurri, as Bernardeschi’s curler clipped the top of the crossbar with Airapetyan rooted to the spot.
All Italy’s attacks came through Emerson down the left, earning a series of corners, while Belotti had what would’ve been his second goal ruled offside, a fine volley.
Il Gallo then skimmed the far post with a half-volley, as Italy took control and dominated possession. There was controversy at the end of the half, as goalscorer Karapetyan had been booked for that row with Verratti and received a second yellow card for a supposed elbow on Leonardo Bonucci. However, replays suggest it was a very harsh decision and did not seem to be that much in it.
Moments later, Belotti hit a fresh-air shot, as Chiesa’s volleyed assist bounced right in front of him with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Emerson had the ball in the net, but this too didn’t count, as Barella had been unable to keep the long free kick in play for the assist.
Armenia fought back when down to 10 men, as Nicolò Barella was booked for clipping Mkhitaryan’s heels on the edge of the D at the end of a counter. After the free kick, Mkrtchyan volleyed over.
It was impossible to tell Armenia were a man down, as Emerson needed a last-ditch block on Mkhitaryan after a powerful Hovhannisyan counter-attack.
Every time Hovhannisyan went on the counter, he surged past defenders and ran half-way up the pitch. It was substitute Lorenzo Pellegrini who turned it around, as Bonucci’s long ball into the box found him unmarked for a glancing header from 10 yards. The Roma midfielder scored his first senior Italy goal.
Moments later, it was 3-1, the same result as Italy’s only other trip to Armenia in 2012. Belotti gathered a Sensi through ball, turned between two defenders and the shot bounced off the inside of the near post, ricocheting in off the goalkeeper’s shoulder.
Pellegrini failed to make the most of a poor Hereyan back-pass, then when Belotti did add another in stoppages, it was incorrectly ruled offside.
Armenia 1-3 Italy
Karapetyan 11 (A), Belotti 28, 80 (I), Lo Pellegrini 77 (I)
Armenia: Airapetyan; Hambartsumyan, Haroyan, Calisir, K Hovhannisyan; A Grigoryan (Hovsepyan 57), Mkrtchyan; Barseghyan (Adamyan 57), Mkhitaryan, Ghazaryan (Babayan 82); Karapetyan
Italy: G Donnarumma; Florenzi, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Emerson; Barella (Sensi 68), Jorginho, Verratti; Bernardeschi (Lasagna 82), Belotti, Chiesa (Lo Pellegrini 60)
Ref: Siebert (GER)
Sent off: Karapetyan 45 (A)
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