Armenia 1-3 Italy: Azzurri ride their luck to see off 10-man hosts
Unbeaten Italy took another step towards the Euro 2020 finals with a 3-1 Group J win in Armenia.
An Andrea Belotti brace and a solitary effort from substitute Lorenzo Pellegrini settled a spicy contest in Yerevan against hosts who played the full second half with 10 men.
Armenia could count themselves unlucky, losing their early goal-scorer Aleksandre Karapetyan to a controversial red card just before the break.
They matched Italy for long stretches in the second half, but two goals in three minutes scuppered their hopes of reward.
Armenia took an 11th-minute lead when Tigran Barseghyan beat Nicolo Barella to a loose ball and fed Karapetyan, who drilled a low shot across Gianluigi Donnarumma into the right corner.
Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri levelled in the 28th minute when Emerson’s cross from the left was volleyed in smartly by Belotti.
Federico Bernardeschi might have put Italy ahead a minute later when he was allowed to run at the Armenian defence from the right before striking a curling left-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area that scraped the bar.
Armenia suffered the body blow of losing Karapetyan who was punished for what the referee contentiously considered an elbowing offence on Leonardo Bonucci.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan had been quiet until the hour mark when he went on a slaloming run – Barella tripped him near the edge of the box.
Armenia almost scored from the free-kick, with Varazdat Haroyan shooting just over the bar.
But Italy shattered the Armenians in the 77th minute when Pellegrini got ahead of his marker to head in a cross swung over from the right by Bonucci.
They got lucky with the third, Belotti rifling a shot against the foot of the right post, with the ball bouncing in off goalkeeper Aram Airapetyan. The striker had another late goal chalked off for offside.
What does it mean? Italy get the job done
Italy were far from their best and became invested in some of the naughty tackling, rising to the bait and the tempestuous atmosphere. They do not look like European champions in the making, but barring a great collapse they will at least be involved in the tournament, after the humiliation of missing out on the 2018 World Cup.
Italian savviness wins the day
The foul from Barella that halted Mkhitaryan at full pelt looked smarter by the minute as the game progressed. Italy will thank him for that tonight, because the midfielder might have gone on to score himself or tee up a team-mate to put Armenia in front. A yellow card was the punishment, the sort that the offender might see fit to celebrate.
Belotti almost ended the game with a hat-trick, only for an assistant referee’s flag to indicate he was offside. He was credited with a double though, which might be a touch fortunate given his second goal appeared to owe a lot to the ball bouncing in off the Armenian goalkeeper. Not that Belotti will quibble, given he had gone without a goal for his country since netting against Saudi Arabia last May.
Italy head to Tampere to tackle Finland on Sunday, with Armenia facing Bosnia-Herzegovina on the same day.
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