Ciro Immobile’s last-gasp brace completed a stunning comeback and Andrea Belotti was on target in Italy’s 3-2 thriller in Macedonia.
This was the first ever competitive meeting between the nations and the Azzurri needed a World Cup qualifying win after their 1-1 draw with Spain. Giampiero Ventura made six changes to the starting XI, as Riccardo Montolivo and Giorgio Chiellini were injured, with Graziano Pellè frozen out for failing to shake the Coach’s hand after a substitution. Andrea Belotti got his first senior Italy start, while Marco Verratti returned to midfield. The hosts included Genoa veteran Goran Pandev and Palermo striker Ilija Nestorovski.
The two Serie A strikers combined immediately, Gigi Buffon narrowing the angle on the older forward at the near post.
Antonio Candreva found the net by volleying in at the back post from Ciro Immobile’s flick-on, but it was correctly ruled offside within 10 minutes.
Egzijan Alioski wasted a promising counter by hitting the side-netting, but Palermo striker Nestorovski almost scored a stunner on 18 minutes when he hooked the ball, spun round and smacked it on the volley to rattle the crossbar from the edge of the box.
The goalkeeper used his legs to deny an Immobile volley at the back post on Candreva’s cross. From that resulting Bernardeschi corner, Belotti got away from his marker to volley in with the inside of his right boot from seven yards. It was Il Gallo’s debut senior Italy strike.
Macedonia broke with a very dangerous counter from another Azzurri corner, but Stefan Ristovski had wandered just offside before Immobile’s potential penalty push. Nestorovski’s header was plucked out of the air by Buffon and Bonaventura couldn’t keep his attempt down on Candreva’s cross.
After the restart Immobile’s solo effort was parried by the goalkeeper’s legs and Daniel Mojsov blasted over from a corner.
Macedonia were gifted the equaliser by Verratti’s awful misplaced pass in midfield, as Nestorovski sprinted forward to sweep the finish into the bottom corner with the inside of his right foot from the edge of the box.
Italy were shaken and moments later they made an almost identical error to turn the game around, only this time Hasani got the finish from the D.
A Besart Ibraimi shot bounced off Buffon’s chest and Ventura had to make changes and went to 4-3-3, as the midfield was completely unbalanced. Candreva’s ferocious free kick skimmed the bar, but Marco Parolo’s first contribution was to get booked and therefore suspended for the next match with Liechtenstein.
Buffon prevented it being 3-1 to the hosts with a splendid reaction save on Mojsov’s free header. That proved crucial, as Immobile got Italy back on level terms by sticking out a toe to turn in Candreva’s low cross from six yards.
Immobile tried to set up Belotti with a back-heel flick, but Mojsov bravely charged down the shot inside the area. Lazio striker Immobile had another effort decisively blocked by Kire Ristevski’s back, then Candreva’s effort flashed all the way across the face of goal with a deflection from Martin Bogatinov.
Parolo got his head to a corner, but it was too central and straight at the ‘keeper, while Nicola Sansone’s lob was plucked out from under the bar.
Parolo thought he had given Italy the lead at the 89th minute with a header on the dinked ball over the top, but the offside flag was raised. It was shown to be an incorrect call, as Mojsov was keeping the Lazio midfielder level.
There was still time to recover, as deep into stoppages Candreva intelligently chipped up a cross to the back post for Immobile’s header from the tightest of angles to restore Italy’s lead.
Macedonia 2-3 Italy
Belotti 24 (I), Nestorovski 57 (M), Hasani 59 (M), Immobile 75, 92 (I)
Macedonia: Bogatinov; Mojsov, Sikov, Ristevski; Ristovski, Hasani (Trajcevski 83), Spirovski, Alioski, Zhuta (Ibraimi 46); Pandev, Nestorovski (Petrovikji 68)
Italy: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Romagnoli; Candreva, Bernardeschi (Sansone 64), Verratti, Bonaventura (Parolo 64), De Sciglio; Belotti (Eder 84), Immobile
Ref: Makkelie (NED)