Azzurri Tame Finland as Immobile Breaks Scoring Drought

Roberto Mancini’s Italy run fast towards Euro 2020. The Azzurri won 1-2 in Finland on Sunday, with Jorginho giving the visitors the decisive lead, after conceding an equalizer to Teemu Pukki. Ciro Immobile had marked Italy’s opener to end his two-year scoring drought with the Nazionale jersey.

After six wins out of six games in their qualification campaign so far, booking a ticket for next year’s itinerant European competition looks like only a matter of time for the Mancio’s band, which came up with another effective – albeit not brilliant – performance after Wednesday’s win in Armenia.

The highlight of the Azzurri’s winning night in Tampere was Ciro Immobile finally hitting the target, sneaking past two opponent defenders to break with a providential header his personal scoring abstinence, that had been lasting since September 2017. It happened in the 58th minute, with Italy in control but unable to break the Finnish wall up to that point – also thanks to goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky’s saves.

Immobile was one of coach Mancini’s five lineup changes versus the winning raid in Armenia, the Lazio striker taking the place of Yerevan’s hero Andrea Belotti – who still doesn’t have two close games in his legs. Aside from the forced replacement of disqualified Marco Verratti with Stefano Sensi, Mancini also deployed Armando Izzo and Francesco Acerbi in defense, and Lorenzo Pellegrini in place of Federico Bernardeschi as winger.

The Azzurri’s manager kept his trust in Nicolo’ Barella and Federico Chiesa, whose performance in Yerevan had been disappointing. Both still appeared far from their expected Nazionale shape, but Fiorentina’s striker had at least the merit of serving Immobile the winning assist with a sharp long-range cross from the right side.

Before that, Italy’s best chance had come from a wonderful volley by Stefano Sensi, brilliantly saved by the Finnish goalkeeper. Immobile had also already tried twice to break his Nazionale drought, first with a header on a cross by Armando Izzo that narrowly missed the target, and then with a shot from close to the goal line which Hradecky parried back with his feet.

Teemu Pukki was the most dangerous man among the Finnish lines, and Armando Izzo didn’t hesitate to go rough on him when necessary…

Finland’s prudent 5-4-1 lineup offered little more than Norwich gigantic striker Teemu Pukki’s accelerations, and the only real risk for the Azzurri came in the 26th minute, when a poor pass by Jorginho was intercepted by Glen Kamara: His counterattack was however stopped by the Italian defense.

The Nordics eventually found their equalizer from the penalty kick spot. Stefano Sensi’s push on Teemu Pukki in the 72nd minute was slight, but naïve – enough to prompt referee Robert Madden to allow him a penalty anyway. Pukki’s conversion was perfect.

Finland returned the courtesy seven minutes later however, when defender Sauli Vaisanen deflected Nicolo’ Barella’s close-range shot with his hand. Penalty again. Jorginho chose an odd way to deliver it: a short run-up, a small jump, and a weak shot – but angled enough to end out of Lukas Hradecky’s reach.

All the Azzurri need to do now to put maths on their side and officially secure their place among the 24 Euro-contenders is making full score against Greece at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on October 12. That wouldn’t look like a daunting task: The Hellenic conceded one point to Lichtenstein last night as they were held onto a 1-1 draw by the Alpine selection, and have been having to make do with one of their less talented generation of players of the last decades.

In another match of the Group J Qualifiers, Bosnia Hercegovina – the toughest contender for the Azzurri on paper – collapsed 2-4 to Armenia and their international star Henrikh Mhkitaryan, prompting coach Robert Prosinecki to resign as qualification chances for the Balkan side got terribly dim.

Italy have found very weak opposition so far on their way to Euro 2020, and any triumphalism at Roberto Mancini’s winning streak should be put in the perspective of a qualification group which was objectively among the easiest in the lot. But, for the time being, booking their ticket to the European Championship without too much to worry about is more than enough for the Azzurri.


September 8, 2019 – European Championship 2020 Qualifiers Group J

SCORERS: 59′ Immobile (I), 72′ Pukki (F, pen.), 79′ Jorginho (I, pen.)

FINLAND (5-4-1): Hradecky; Granlund (82′ Soiri), Toivio, Arajuuri, S. Vaisanen, Uronen; Lod, Schuller (87′ Kauko), Kamara, Lappalainen (75′ Tuominen); Pukki (Joronen, Jaakkola, L. Vaisanen, Forsell, Jensen, Karjalainen, Pirinen, Skrabb, Raitala) Coach: Kanerva
ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Izzo, Bonucci, Acerbi, Emerson (8′ Florenzi); Barella, Jorginho, Sensi; Pellegrini, Immobile (76′ Belotti), Chiesa (72′ Bernardeschi) (Sirigu, Meret, G. Mancini, D’Ambrosio, Romagnoli, Tonali, Grifo, Lasagna, El Shaarawy) Coach: R. Mancini

REFEREE: Madden (Scotland)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Schuller, Arajuuri, Kauko (F), Jorginho, Donnarumma (I)

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