Luciano Spalletti said that he is in heaven in his new job as Italy coach after Davide Frattesi got the Azzurri’s Euro 2024 qualifying campaign back on track with a brace in Tuesday’s entertaining 2-1 win over Ukraine.
Italy occupy the second of two automatic qualifying places in Group C after Spalletti’s first win on his home debut, which came thanks to two strikes in the first half-an-hour at the San Siro from Inter Milan midfielder Frattesi.
The 22-year-old, who was picked in place of the injured Sandro Tonali, rifled in two low finishes to move Italy level on seven points with Ukraine, who scored through captain Andriy Yarmolenko four minutes before half-time, and North Macedonia.
Next month Italy face Malta in Bari before travelling to Wembley, the site of their thrilling triumph at the last Euro, to take on England who lead that trio by six points.
“I’ve settled in very well. It’s incredible being here, I feel like I’m in heaven, surrounded by blue,” Spalletti told reporters.
“We have difficulties, like everyone, but we also have obligations that we need to take on. And when we’re in difficulty we need to know how to act.”
Tuesday’s win might have had a tight scoreline but there were encouraging signs that Italy were beginning to take on some of Spalletti’s methods.
Apart from a brief period after the break Italy dominated the match with a flowing brand of football reminiscent of the Napoli team Spalletti led to a historic Serie A title last season.
Missing a clutch of first-choice players including Juventus forward Federico Chiesa, Italy could easily have won by more.
They wasted a host of chances and struck the woodwork through Manuel Locatelli in a display which was worlds away from the dismal 1-1 draw with North Macedonia on Saturday.
“It was hard for us to play so soon after playing against England (at the weekend). Italy played with real intensity, it was hard for us to keep up with them,” admitted Ukraine coach Serhiy Rebrov.
“However I believe we still have a chance to qualify.”
Knowing only a win would do after the draw in Skopje, Italy tore into Ukraine from the first whistle and could have been ahead within three minutes when Locatelli lashed over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
And Giacomo Raspadori had his head in his hands in the 10th minute after bundling his way onto goal only to smash finish into the stands.
However two minutes later Ukraine gifted Italy the lead when Georgiy Sudakov slipped in possession outside his own area and Mattia Zaccagni nipped in, slipping the ball across to Frattesi who drilled in the opener.
Italy continued to press and create — Raspadori blasting Frattesi’s knock down over — and were deservedly two ahead in the 29th minute.
Nicolo Zaniolo’s awkward low shot bobbled between Frattesi and Raspadori before falling to the Inter man, who had the wherewithal to poke home Italy’s second which was given after a VAR check for offside.
Italy looked ready to cruise to victory but Yarmolenko halved the deficit shortly before the break.
Yarmolenko rolled into an empty net after Gianluigi Donnarumma—who was booed all night by AC Milan fans still angry as his move to Paris Saint-Germain—palmed out Artem Dovbyk’s close-range attempt only for Federico Dimarco to pass the rebound straight to the opposition skipper.
Ukraine had renewed confidence and were dangerous on the break, but goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan had to be at his very best to keep out Raspadori after the forward was brilliantly put through by Zaniolo’s backheel.
The lively Zaniolo then had a shot well saved by Bushchan in the 67th minute and moments later Locatelli spun and crashed a shot off the crossbar after chaos in the Ukraine area.
And after Yukhym Konoplya headed a great chance wide with five minutes to go while flattening Wilfried Gnonto Italy held out in the final moments for a big win.
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