Italy worked harder than expected for a 3-1 victory in Israel after Giorgio Chiellini saw red in their first 2018 World Cup qualifier.
Giampiero Ventura had his first competitive game after Thursday’s 3-1 friendly defeat to France. Marco Verratti and Luca Antonelli stepped into the starting XI, while Leonardo Bonucci was back after taking time out to nurse his infant son. Israel had only played one friendly under new Coach Elisha Levy and had Eyal Golasa injured, but gave Sheran Yeini a surprise start.
There were a couple of early scares from a Giorgio Chiellini defensive error handing it to Kayal and then Andrea Barzagli’s crucial sliding block to prevent Hemed’s miscued shot turning into an assist for Eran Zahavi.
However, the Azzurri scored with their first chance, as Verratti’s through ball released Antonelli down the left and he squared it for Graziano Pellè to tap in from six yards. The striker has moved to China, but he still scored four of Italy’s last seven goals.
Eder was incorrectly flagged offside, but Chiellini again seemed error-prone after the France friendly and was booked for taking down Tal Ben-Haim following a mistake.
Bonaventura ran into the box down the left and was tripped by Ben Bitton for a penalty. Antonio Candreva stepped up and comfortably converted with the inside of the right foot.
However, another Chiellini howler sent Ben-Haim clear and the Israeli forward beat Gigi Buffon with a divine chip from the edge of the box, settling into the far top corner.
In first half stoppages Pellè thought he had added another, but his header was sensationally denied by goalkeeper David Goresh at full stretch. On the resulting corner, Candreva’s effort was charged down.
Straight after the restart Eder ran on to a marvellous Bonucci ball over the top and his lob was just wide of the empty net, but in chasing him down Eitan Tibi pulled up with a thigh strain.
Buffon was forced into his first genuine save on 52 minutes, at full stretch to beat away a left-foot Nir Bitton daisy-cutter from distance.
Chiellini’s off night got even worse, as he received a second yellow card for a shirt-tug and was sent off, leaving Italy down to 10 men for 35 minutes in Haifa. It was his first red card for Italy in 90 caps and also means Chiellini will be suspended for next month’s decisive clash with Spain.
Angelo Ogbonna came on to complete the three-man defence, replacing Bonaventura, but Israel were pouring forward and Ofir Davidzada rolled across an open goal with nobody able to tap in.
Buffon only beat away a Roi Kehat strike into the path of Zahavi, then performed a desperate reaction save on the rebound from a tight angle.
Verratti was clearly limping, but all the substitutions had been completed. The hosts continued to push with Hemed’s overhead kick wide and Kehat blasting over.
However, Ciro Immobile proved an inspired substitution, as he scored a goal out of nowhere. Buffon’s long goal kick was flicked on by Pellè and Immobile showed great strength to hold off his marker, smashing the right-foot angled drive into the far bottom corner from 12 yards.
It was almost 4-1 moments later, Immobile springing the offside trap on an Alessandro Florenzi pass to fire wide on the half-volley.
Israel 1-3 Italy
Pellè 14 (It), Candreva pen 31 (It), Ben-Haim 35 (Is), Immobile 83 (It)
Israel: Goresh; B Bitton (Atzily 57), Tibi (Gershon 50), Tzedek, Davidzada; Kayal, N Bitton, Yeini; Ben-Haim (Kehat 61), Hemed, Zahavi
Italy: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Candreva, Parolo, Verratti, Bonaventura (Ogbonna 62), Antonelli; Eder (Immobile 70), Pellè
Ref: Karasev (RUS)
Sent off: Chiellini 54 (It)