Giorgio Chiellini incredibly scored a brace for Italy and an own goal in the stuttering 2-1 victory over Azerbaijan.
Elsewhere in this group, Croatia won 1-0 in Bulgaria and Norway flattened Malta 3-0.
The Euro 2016 qualifying campaign kicked off with a 2-0 victory in Norway and continued at the Stadio Barbera in Palermo. Simone Zaza and Ciro Immobile were again strike partners, but Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta, Daniele De Rossi and Daniel Osvaldo all pulled out with injury. Andrea Pirlo was talked into abandoning his international retirement and got his 113th cap. Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan lost 2-1 to Bulgaria, but only in the final minutes. Their previous encounters with Italy saw 2-0 and 4-0 defeats in Euro 2014 qualifying.
Claudio Marchisio missed a sitter set up for him by Immobile within five minutes, ballooning over from 12 yards. Leonardo Bonucci’s long-range effort was deflected by Zaza, forcing a save, as did the Juve defender’s diving header from a Pirlo corner.
Bonucci got into very attacking positions and came sliding on to an Immobile cross from five yards. He wanted a penalty for a handling offence, but was so close to Badavi Guseynov that it would’ve been impossible to avoid contact.
Another centre-back, Andrea Ranocchia, nodded Pirlo’s free kick just over the bar and defender Giorgio Chiellini eventually broke the deadlock. He was allowed a totally free header from six yards on Pirlo’s corner, as goalkeeper Kamran Agayev misjudged his attempted punch. That was Chiellini’s fifth Italy goal, three of them headers.
After the restart Zaza’s spectacular overhead kick whistled just wide, then Rashad Sadygov was decisive to stop Marchisio’s pass rolling across for an Immobile tap-in. Italy were playing with a different tempo in this second half and Zaza tried another bicycle kick, but it was charged down.
Gigi Buffon’s first genuine intervention was on 66 minutes, getting down to block a Dmitri Nazarov long-range effort, but Zaza prodded wide from six yards on Matteo Darmian’s assist and Immobile stumbled after trying to burst past three players.
However, Azerbaijan snatched a surprise equaliser in Palermo. Andrea Ranocchia made up for his error, but still had to give away a corner, and from that Chiellini anticipated Aliyev, accidentally bundling the ball over the line from point-blank range. Buffon tried to keep it out, but did not have the time.
Alberto Aquilani should’ve gone for goal, but instead over-hit his pass for Sebastian Giovinco, while Bonucci ballooned a volley over.
The Azzurri restored their advantage with Chiellini again. A corner was taken short for Giovinco, who curled a cross from the right on to the defender’s head for his first ever Italy brace. Remarkably, this meant Chiellini had scored all three goals this evening for two different teams. It was also the first goal Antonio Conte had conceded as Italy Coach.
Immobile had the ball in the net, but only after Zaza had pushed the goalkeeper, then Agayev intercepted a Giovinco through pass for the Borussia Dortmund striker.
Giovinco went for goal himself with a right-foot curler that smacked against the crossbar in stoppages.
Italy 2-1 Azerbaijan
Scorers: Chiellini 44, 82 (I), Chiellini og 76 (A)
Italy: Buffon; Ranocchia, Bonucci, Chiellini; Darmian (Candreva 81), Florenzi (Giovinco 77), Pirlo (Aquilani 74), Marchisio, De Sciglio; Zaza, Immobile
Azerbaijan: K Agayev; Allahverdiyev, Guseynov, R F Sadygov, Qirtimov (Ramaldanov 46); A Abdullayev, Qarayev, Amirguliyev (Nadirov 86), Nazarov; Dadasov (Huseynov 59), R Aliyev
Ref: Gocek (TUR)
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