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Sunday October 11 2015
Azzurri can build on Azerbaijan

Italy sealed Euro 2016 qualification with a win in Azerbaijan in which Luca Cetta saw some bright moments in an otherwise lacklustre display.

It’s time to prepare for a French summer. Italy have qualified for Euro 2016 thanks to a 3-1 win away to Azerbaijan, the most prolific victory of this campaign. The Azzurri netted more than two goals for the first time under Antonio Conte – Matteo Darmian’s strike equalling a mark not reached since the 2013 Confederations Cup.

A game of soft goals, the home defence was opened time and again and the Azzurri profited. Meanwhile, there was a moment of anxiety as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci failed to deal with a long ball forward, giving Dimitrij Nazarov the chance to convert. It was one he did not pass up. It came after Eder netted his second international goal to give Italy an early lead. Stephan El Shaarawy restored the advantage, before Darmian’s second half sealer.

Six victories and three draws mean qualification with one game to spare. Yet in truth, Italy have flattered to deceive throughout the campaign and after three successive stalemates there was real pressure on the side. At that point it looked as if Italy would have a real scrap on their hands to finish in the top two. The final matter against Norway on Tuesday is playing for first.

This mirrored earlier matches in Group H. After taking the lead, the Azzurri ceded territory and possession to Azerbaijan and the home side created moments of panic, without seriously troubling Gianluigi Buffon. It took the equalising goal to spark the Italians into life again.

But at a major tournament playing with such slender margins leaves possibilities wide open. Italy saw what happens when balancing games on a knife-edge against Uruguay at the World Cup last year goes against you. The Azzurri headed home.

Conte must ram home the point that one goal is never enough. Especially when he – and the players – notes that there are no easy games anymore. And at the same time, Italy lack the ability of old to methodically hold a lead.

But in each goal scored there was promise. Andrea Pirlo was ruled out yesterday with a slight adductor problem and Daniele De Rossi suspended, giving the keys of the midfield to Marco Verratti. The Paris Saint-Germain player was tidy as ever in possession and kept things ticking over. His pass for Eder’s opener was superb – the run well timed and finish well taken. Only Bonucci was on the ball more times than Verratti, while he made a game-high five interceptions.

The second goal saw El Shaarawy lift a weight off his shoulders. Three years since his lone international goal, it was pleasing to see the former Milan man back on the scoresheet. The finish was a simple one, tapping in to an empty net. But given his persistent injury problems throughout recent years, it was significant.

Winning his 16th cap last night, Darmian added a first international goal to an admirable start to life at Manchester United. The 25-year-old netted a fine individual goal, capitalising on a poor attempt to play out from the back by Azerbaijan. Darmian’s anticipation to intercept the ball was matched only by his composure in the finish from outside the penalty area.

Those goals showed three avenues of promise for the Nazionale and augur well for Conte’s long-term preparation. Verratti, making only his sixth start in competitive action, has to take these opportunities with others missing. He did last night and was Italy’s best player throughout the 90 minutes.

Darmian has featured in all nine qualifiers and has pegged down the right-back role. El Shaarawy’s position is more muddled as he forms part of an attacking puzzle that Conte has not yet solved. But he is another option moving forward to Euro 2016.

It was at times a typically laboured performance that has been a consistent theme throughout qualification. Yet the key moments that led to the victory will be most pleasing for Conte, as he and the Azzurri can now look forward to a French adventure.

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Have your say...
italy is my favourit team in france 2016.especially fiorenzi will be star.
on the 24th March, 2016 at 1:40pm
Well said rahul
on the 24th October, 2015 at 6:52pm
@Godman100 u said Pelle is poor.then who is ur another CF who can score any angle or any time???? no one for sure..Now Pelle is da best for Italy..he scores & also setting up to others.he us hard working,using his physiq up front,reliable.

so ur blind or unknown abt Italian football
on the 15th October, 2015 at 10:53am
For those who are interested Eder scored 9 Serie A goals last season and 3 in the cup (12 in 31). He's got 2 in 6 for Italy. At the age of 28 he's got no Champions League experience. Pelle scored 12 goals in the Premiership last season and 4 in other competitions (16 in 44). He's got a respectable 4 in 8 for Italy. At the age of 30 he has 5 Champions League games under his belt from his time at AZ Alkmaar. Well at least we have the element of surprise.
on the 15th October, 2015 at 12:36am
@godman100
I completly see where you are coming from but Pelle is in form for southampton. I havnt seen Balotelli ever terrorise anything apart from twitter. There are people that cry out for Italy to move on from the old, well i am one of those people and the old is Balotelli aswell. He scored 1 good goal against Germany and people think that merits leaving out players who are playing well at club level and when they are called up. Pelle is a striker. He sits in strikers positions unlike Balo.
on the 14th October, 2015 at 6:26pm
Well xavi iniesta silva were not giants. Time for Italy to rely on the atomic ants Giovinco Iniesta Verratti and Florenzi. We could put in a pitbull as well like Pelle or Zaza or even Balo. We have the makings of a dynamic offence if Conte understood anything about offence.
on the 14th October, 2015 at 1:16pm
@Anonymous - Pelle may have scored but he was poor and ineffective most of the game, as he has been in previous. Personally I see Pelle as a sub that comes on when you need a goal as he doesn't have the quality to run the game and terrorise defenders from the start. I also don't think Balotelli deserves a place on just a few performances, even though I don't think his failure at Liverpool was his fault. He really needs to do very well for Milan to warrant a call up.
on the 14th October, 2015 at 11:45am
Pelle on target again. Giovinco and florenzi great. Maldini heir is not sure what Balotelli has to do to prove himself. I would say he has to show consistancy over a season not 1 n half games, prove his changed over a season because Even cassano is well behaved for the first month at a new team.
Pelle is in form why should he be dropped? Balotelli has scored 1 goal in serie A and 2 in prem league since season 13/14 and current. You want to leave out Eder, beradi n pelle for that? Expert??! NO!
on the 13th October, 2015 at 10:52pm
Typical safe pedestrian puff piece. Pathetic article.
on the 13th October, 2015 at 3:30pm
As for England.... Next... I am not totally convinced with France especially with the creative side of things but every time they have hosted a competition, they have won it. The corrupt Platini has made this tournament a nonsense with his expansion. 32 teams is beyond ridiculous. Wales, NI, Albania,Romania, Slovakia etc are really not going to add quality to this once great tournament. Italy really have very little to fear as they are just as unimpressive as anyone else.
on the 13th October, 2015 at 10:55am
Germany aside I do not see any clear faves for the Euros so Italy have nothing to fear. Even Germany have low quality full backs and never seem to beat Italy. Spain and Belgium have the talent but imo poor managers. Del Bosque has dined out on Aragones team for far too long. To create his own team is proving problematic. Younger players are no really given a chance as Koke and De Gea will attest to. Wilmots is so holding a very talented Belgium squad back its untrue with his rigidness.
on the 13th October, 2015 at 10:49am
Conte mst use 4:4:2 regulrly..bcoz it is looking btr for Italy..
our possible lineup at Euro is

buffon

florenzi-bonuccu-chiellini-darmian
berardi-verratti-marchisio-el shaarawy
Eder-Pelle
pelle is key for our success in Euro..bcoz he is our most consistent performer now..
forza Italia....all da way..
on the 13th October, 2015 at 7:13am
step up their game between now and then but potentially that would be quite a strong line up. It won't happen though. As I've said given how Conte and some of the senior players have acted I think it's best for everyone for Balotelli to stay away and we can rely on Eder and Pelle to set Europe alight next summer. I can hardly hold back my excitement.
on the 12th October, 2015 at 11:38pm
plays in the US or De Sciglio who has been awful for about 2 years . If someone like Allegri had taken charge I don't think there would be any of this drama. He would've just continued building on the foundations that Prandelli laid (admittedly without Pirlo). I would love to see Italy line up in the European Championships with something like: Buffon, Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglilo, Verratti, De Rossi, Bonaventura, Candreva, SES and Balotelli. At least 3 or 4 of those players need to
on the 12th October, 2015 at 11:36pm
cannot control possession. It is unclear precisely what Balotelli would need to do to get back into the side. After the World Cup it should not have been controversial to select Italy's leading goalscorer. But with his decline at Liverpool Conte could not justify selecting him and it's still early days at Milan. But what level does Conte expect of him? It seems a higher level than the likes of Bonucci and Chiellini who regularly under perform for the Azzurri and a higher level than Pirlo who now
on the 12th October, 2015 at 11:18pm
Champions League experience than most of the non-Juve players combined. Conte has been really slow to introduce him although it seems he will be an established fixture come the European Championships. Conte's complete mismanagement of Balotelli, from isolating the player, jumping on the scapegoat bandwagon and then communicating with the player through the media (completely unprofessional by any standards) has denied Italy of genuine quality upfront. The ball simply doesn't stick. It means Italy
on the 12th October, 2015 at 11:15pm
Champions League experience than most of the non-Juve players combined. Conte has been really slow to introduce him although it seems he will be an established fixture come the European Championships. Conte's complete mismanagement of Balotelli, from isolating the player, jumping on the scapegoat bandwagon and then communicating with the player through the media (completely unprofessional by any standards) has denied Italy of genuine quality upfront. The ball simply doesn't stick. It means Italy
on the 12th October, 2015 at 11:15pm
@ Baggios ghost You've hit the nail on the head. Pirlo and Buffon have been Italy's two world class players in the past 10 years and Pirlo's decline (due to age) has been sorely felt. This has certainly played a role in the regression under Conte and possibly Italy's failure last World Cup. However Conte has not done a particularly good job dealing with the succession. Verratti is clearly Italy's best midfielder at present, has been established at PSG for 3 years now and probably has more
on the 12th October, 2015 at 11:10pm
@Baggio ghost
Wouldnt take much notice of maldini heir, he thinks there isn't a foreign problem in serie A. He also doesn't know where a bear goes loo!!!
on the 12th October, 2015 at 8:10pm
Well done Conte! I'm pleased with the progression of the team so far. Sure, there's been some negatives but i feel as though we are starting to take shape.

Verratti is a beast and vital to our success. Him and Marchisio in front of a world class defense is like a vault.

With plenty of attacking talent on the wings and strong ball winners (and suppliers) in midfield we can hope to arrive at the Euros as an all round complete and highly competitve team.

The future is bright.
on the 12th October, 2015 at 7:23pm
Maldini Heir you r overlooking just how much Italy has relied on Pirlo in the last 10-15 years, its no coincidence that it was only when Pirlo arrived in the Italy set up did Italy progress to winning a WC in 06, he was out of it or off form with injuries in 08 & 10 & when he did finally return fit in 2012 Prandelli was there to benefit from this, Conte hasn't had that luxury & the regression you mention is no surprise, it started in 2013, a lack of quality is not Conte's fault here
on the 12th October, 2015 at 4:24pm
Saturdays performance was better, but let's face it, we were hardly up against a world beater. It's not a nice thing to say, but I was relieved when Pirlo was ruled out with an injury. It's high time that Verratti is the first name on the team sheet. Had Pirlo played (especially in a 442) his defensive frailties would have been exposed and we could have been embarrassed.
on the 12th October, 2015 at 2:04pm
Italy can start building the squad around Verratti. He has proven how strong a player he is, when the team is build to his skills, hence fast at mind and legs. Buffon;Darmian-Bonucci-Chiellini-Santon;Candreva-Verratti-Marchisio-Insigne;Rossi-Pellè for a very offensive and dynamic 4-4-2. Berardi, Florenzi and ElShaarawy being the first options as subs. We might not win the EC as France, Spain, Germany and maybe also Belgium and England are either stronger or more experienced, but we can have fun.
on the 12th October, 2015 at 12:37pm
@maldini heir
That would be the woods!
on the 12th October, 2015 at 6:27am
@Maldini's Heir
I was excited by Conte and I also feel let down. Maybe it's time for us to just go back to how we once were, Prandelli was to change the way italy played going into what he discribed as a'modern' era, but it was always the same! Maybe winning ugly is all we know. We weren't exactly dominating every game in 2006, we were the underdogs with the world against us. Works for Mourinho. As for Balotelli he has months of making up to do, 1 or 2 good performances won't cut it.
on the 12th October, 2015 at 6:25am
Is that someone anonymously obsessing over the B-word again? And where does the bear go to the loo?

Sam De Martino - in all honesty it's probably best if Balotelli stays away from the Azzurri. Conte has done a pretty horrific job managing the situation. Let him stick with his "senatori". They've failed to get out of 2 World Cup groups in a row so what could possibly go wrong this time? If Balotelli comes in now the pressure will be ridiculous.
on the 12th October, 2015 at 12:41am
Anyone still waiting to impressed by Conte's Azzurri? He likes to talk and blame a lot but my god are Italy bad to watch at the moment. I think we've completely regressed since Prandelli. Last time we made the final. So that's the milestone. Semi-finals or Conte has to go. If we must put up with him then can he at least be successful. And I was so excited when he was hired. What a let down.
on the 12th October, 2015 at 12:33am
Verratti has proved a massive point, i hope conte learns from it, Pirlo is a great but at international level its over for him. I hope giovinco and insigne are all all his future plans, pelle looking good and beradi is real quality. Think it really is time for us to move on from Pirlo. I hope we never see Balotelli in this team, we look united and happy why spoil it. Giovinvo has scored more than Balotelli and he is a winger, it would be unjust for Balotelli to be picked.
on the 12th October, 2015 at 12:10am
The midfield looked much quicker and the play much faster. Conte and Italy better get a clue and let Verratti, Darmian, Insigne, and Giovinco play. And I really don't want to hear how DeRossi or Pirlo need to be in because quite frankly they don't, that is if you want to have a team that can score more then 1 goal.
on the 11th October, 2015 at 11:38pm
@Dino
Parolo might be a late-bloomer and play for not-so-much hailed Lazio team, but he is certainly a great and complete central mid: can press, pass and tackle, a nice shot and good on the ball, tactically well-aware.
You must be blind or biased.
There's nobody better in the current roster than Parolo except maybe Marchisio.
on the 11th October, 2015 at 4:59pm

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