Italy qualified for Euro 2016 with a 3-1 victory in Azerbaijan, as Eder, Stephan El Shaarawy and Matteo Darmian were on target.
With Andrea Pirlo, Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Insigne injured, plus Daniele De Rossi suspended, Antonio Conte switched to an attack-minded 4-4-2 approach with Marco Verratti pulling the midfield strings. A victory would mathematically qualify Italy for Euro 2016 and they’d won all three previous meetings with Azerbaijan, home and away, though the most recent visit to Baku was in September 2002.
Gigi Buffon smothered a Rahid Amirguliyev curler, as the hosts were dangerous on the counter, but Eder broke the deadlock by going one-on-one against the goalkeeper thanks to a wonderful Verratti pass over the top. It was the Sampdoria forward’s eighth goal in 11 games for club and country.
It was almost 2-0 soon after, as Eder knocked down a cross for Graziano Pellè and the volley was palmed out from under the bar.
Azerbaijan snatched a surprise equaliser when Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci failed to clear, so Dmitri Nazarov pounced to drill the loose ball into the bottom corner from just inside the area.
Stephan El Shaarawy’s fierce half-volley skimmed the bar, then he fired over an open goal after an unconvincing Kamran Agayev punch.
The Azzurri restored their advantage before the break with a well-worked move. Antonio Candreva ran on to Eder’s through ball and rolled across for El Shaarawy to pass into an empty net. It was only the Little Pharaoh’s second goal for Italy, the other being in November 2012.
El Shaarawy’s first touch let him down after the restart, then Eder thought it was 3-1 on the hour mark when he sprung the offside trap to lob the on-rushing Agayev, but Rashad Sadygov sprinted back for a decisive goal-line clearance.
Matteo Darmian celebrated his first goal for Italy by anticipating a pass to smash the finish from just outside the box. This was the first time in Conte’s era that the Nazionale had scored three goals in a single game.
Amirguliyev’s strike was deflected off Chiellini to risk an own goal, but Sebastian Giovinco made an immediate impact when he was hauled down clear on goal for an inevitable Huseynov red card. The Toronto FC star curled the resulting free kick on to the crossbar from the edge of the box.
Riccardo Montolivo also made his first Italy appearance since breaking his leg in May 2014.
Azerbaijan 1-3 Italy
Scorers: Eder 11 (I), Nazarov 31 (A), El Shaarawy 43 (I), Darmian 65 (I)
Azerbaijan: K Agayev; Medvedev, Huseynov, R F Sadygov, Dashdemirov; Garayev; Ismayilov (Mirzabekov 91), Eddy (R A Sadygov 66), Amirguliyev, Nazarov; R Gurbanov (Erat 74)
Italy: Buffon; Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; Candreva (Montolivo 89), Verratti, Parolo, El Shaarawy (Florenzi 74); Pellè, Eder (Giovinco 79)
Ref: Collum (SCO)
Sent off: Huseynov 88 (A)