Italy made sure they will be seeded in the draw for the World Cup play-offs with a hard-fought 1-0 win in Albania on Monday.
Antonio Candreva converted Leonardo Spinazzola’s cross in the 73rd minute to score the only goal of the game and ease some of the pressure on under-fire coach Gian Piero Ventura.
While already certain of finishing second behind Spain in Group G, the four-time world champions looked in serious danger of suffering back-to-back draws following Friday’s dismal 1-1 result at home against Macedonia as they struggled to break down their hosts.
However, midfielder Candreva was on hand to smash home the winner and give Italy a morale-boosting triumph before they play in a two-legged play-off in November.
— Italy (@azzurri) October 9, 2017
After his 3-4-3 experiment backfired in Turin last time out, Ventura reverted to his preferred 4-2-4 formation on the road.
However, the switch to a more familiar shape failed to spark an improved attacking display, despite the visitors controlling possession for long periods.
Their only shot on target in the opening half came about due to an Albanian error, as Frederic Veseli’s air shot gave Ciro Immobile a sight of goal.
The striker, who scored his country’s second in a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture back in March, seized on the gift to hammer a left-footed effort that goalkeeper Etrit Berisha blocked at close range.
At the other end, the home side had to settle for long-range shots that, while speculative, did occasionally force Gianluigi Buffon into action.
The veteran goalkeeper fumbled a low drive from Elseid Hysaj but was able to claim the rebound under no pressure, while a dive was required to prevent a skimming attempt from Eros Grezda squeezing in at his right post.
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) October 9, 2017
Odise Roshi called Buffon into action in the opening seconds of the second period, with his rising drive punched away in rather unconvincing fashion.
Spurred on by the early effort, Albania showed greater attacking intent in the hope of finishing an otherwise disappointing qualifying campaign on a high.
Italy nearly capitalised on the counter as the game became stretched, only for Eder to wastefully blaze over when he had two well-placed team-mates in support.
Grezda was denied by Buffon again just after the hour mark before Candreva slotted home the decisive goal, controlling Spinazzola’s left-wing delivery at the back post before lashing the ball high into the Albanian net.
Immobile spurned a late chance when in the clear to double Italy’s lead, but one goal proved enough to deny Albania coach Christian Panucci a positive result against the country he represented 57 times during his playing career. For counterpart Ventura, the victory provides some welcome relief after a difficult few days.
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