Italy clinched a place at Euro 2020 as Jorginho and Federico Bernardeschi scored in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Greece.
Roberto Mancini’s men were far from at their fluent best at Stadio Olimpico, appearing devoid of craft against an often-packed Greece defence, but a pair of second-half goals ensured they did enough to make sure of a top-two finish in Group J.
The victory extended their strong qualification campaign, giving Italy a seventh successive victory.
Unsurprisingly, Greece set up to frustrate Italy and they certainly achieved that goal in the first half, with the Azzurri crafting few notable opportunities in a dour opening 45 minutes.
But a combination of Italy’s determination and a defensive blunder from Andreas Bouchalakis in the second period allowed Jorginho to convert a penalty and substitute Bernardeschi wrapped the win up late on.
Italy generally dominated a largely forgettable first half in Rome, though their control of possession was not reflected in the number of chances forged, as Alexandros Paschalakis in the Greece goal was little more than a spectator.
While Gianluigi Donnarumma was by no means busy at the other end, his reflex save to palm away Dimitris Limnios’ effort in the 12th minute was vital.
Italy then suffered the blow of losing Federico Chiesa to an apparent muscle injury just before the interval.
But the hosts’ first attempt on target came from a cross courtesy of Chiesa’s replacement, as Bernardeschi’s delivery found Ciro Immobile and his header was tipped around the post by Paschalakis.
The goalkeeper was helpless just past the hour, however – Jorginho dispatching a penalty with typical composure after Bouchalakis blatantly blocked Lorenzo Insigne’s shot with his arm.
Bernardeschi ended Greece’s hopes of a late fightback, finding the bottom-left corner from distance with 12 minutes to go.
— Italy (@azzurri) October 12, 2019
What does it mean? Italy back in the big-time
After missing out on a place at the 2018 World Cup, Italy were not going to accept failure in this qualification campaign, so they put their money where their mouth was and hired a reputable coach in Mancini.
While there was nothing vintage about the performance on Saturday and their group always looked like being simple, at least on this occasion they have met expectations by securing a place in next year’s tournament and with three matches to spare.
Verratti adds a touch of class
In a match often lacking quality, Marco Verratti was a standout performer. Hassled and harried by Greece’s dogged midfield, the Paris Saint-Germain star routinely played his way out of trouble with ease, even inside his own penalty area in the first period.
A day to forget for Bouchalakis
Until the bizarre decision to block a shot with his arm in the penalty area, Bouchalakis and his defensive colleagues had put up a decent fight. In that moment their chances disappeared, as they did not look much of a threat at the other end.
Italy return to action on Tuesday away to Liechtenstein, while Greece host Bosnia-Herzegovina on the same day.
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