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Italy cruise past toothless Malta to keep Euro hopes on track


Bonaventura 23

Berardi 45, 63

Frattesi 90

MALTA            0


G. Donnarumma, F. Dimarco (79 D. Udogie), M. Locatelli, M. Kean (79 G. Scamacca), G. Bonaventura (86 C. Biraghi), G. Raspadori, D. Berardi (65 R. Orsolini), M. Darmian, G. Mancini, N. Barella (65 D. Frattesi), A. Bastoni.


H. Bonello, R. Camenzuli, M. Guillaumier, J. Mbong (65 C. Attard), L. Montebello (54 A. Satariano), E. Pepe, B. Kristensen (65 N. Muscat), Y. Yankam (84 K. Nwoko), P. Mbong (84 B. Paiber), Z. Muscat, F. Apap.

Referee Duje Strukan (Croatia).

Yellow cards P. Mbong, Yankam, Apap.

Italy boosted their hopes of winning the race for the second spot in Group C when they eased past a toothless Malta side in a Euro 2024 qualifier at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari on Saturday.

Goals from Giacomo Bonaventura, his first with the Azzurri’s colours, and Domenico Berardi during the first half put the Italians well on their way to an important win in Group C that kept them in second spot, level on the ten-point mark with Ukraine, but the Italians still hold the edge over the former Russian Republic as they prevailed in the only meeting between the two countries in the group so far.

Luciano Spalletti’s team didn’t need to set any houses of fire to overcome a defensive-minded Malta side who looked more focused on protecting their goal rather than pushing men forward.

In fact, one frustrating factor in Malta’s performance against the Italians was the fact that the team seemed somewhat too fearful of trying to catch their more illustrious opponents when the opportunity of a fast transition arose. That resulted in the team losing immediate possession and putting their defence under pressure.

One sincerely hopes of a much-needed response from the players in next week’s clash against the Ukrainians which promises to be another tough night against a side who are well in the hunt for a qualifying berth.

Malta national teams head coach Michele Marcolini opted for speed and physical presence when naming his starting formation.

Henry Bonello retained his place in goal and the three-man defence was formed by the returning Enrico Pepe, Zach Muscat and Ferdinando Apap, who came in for the suspended Steve Borg.

Yannick Yankam was drafted in the team’s engine room in the absence of Teddy Teuma alongside Matthew Guillaumier and Bjorn Kristensen with Joseph Mbong and Ryan Camenzuli patrolling the flanks.

Paul Mbong filled the void left by the injured Jodi Jones and was positioned just behind Luke Montebello who was preferred to Alex Satariano who started on the bench.

Luciano Spalletti, the Italy coach, drafted in Giacomo Bonaventura in midfield in the absence of Sandro Tonali and the Fiorentina midfielder played alongside Manuel Locatelli and Nicolo Barella.

Upfront Moises Kean formed a three-pronged attack alongside Giacomo Raspadori and Domenico Berardi.

Italy started strongly and after three minutes of play Moises Kean sped clear on the left and his cross was deflected into the path of Locatelli who fired just wide.

The home side threatened again two minutes later when from a Raspadori corner kick, Gianluca Mancini was first to the ball but his header came off the bar before the Maltese defence cleared.

Malta finally threatened a minute later when Joseph Mbong raced clear on the right and his low cross was hit first-time by Luke Montebello but his shot was deviated to a corner.

After weather Italy’s early pressure the Maltese seemed to settle down more on the pitch and managed to defend staunchly Italy’s attempts to test Bonello in the Malta goal.

However, that early optimism all but faded away on 23 minutes when the Azzurri took the lead.

The Maltese failed to move out of their half as they lost possession with Barella quickly feeding Bonaventura who let fly a curling drive past Bonello and into the top corner.

Italy came close to a second goal on 29 minutes when from a Federico Dimarco corner kick, the ball was flicked to Locatelli but his overhead kick finished just over.

Six minutes from the break, Bonello created some anxious moments among the Maltese clan when he tried to dribble an opponent a couple of metres out but luckily the ball finished out of play.

After that early goal, Italy seemed to lose their early spark as they were guilty of some wayward passing, much to the frustration of the home fans.

Italy raised their rhythm in the first minute of stoppage time with some lightning passing and Domenico Berardi was teed up by Barella and hit a curling drive that flew past Bonello and finished into the net via the upright.

On 56 minutes Yankam did well to pounce on some hesitant defending from the home side to put himself in a dangerous position inside the area but his shot was blocked.

Just past the hour mark, Bonello was dispossessed by Raspadori inside his own box but luckily for the visitors the Napoli forward saw his cross cleared away by the Maltese defence.

Italy did add a third goal on 63 minutes when in a quick break, Raspadori picked up Berardi who stabbed the ball past Bonello.

Here, Spalletti withdrew the impressive Berardi and Barella and brought on Riccardo Orsolini and Davide Frattesi as he opted to preserve the energy of his star players for Tuesday’s key clash against England at Wembley.

Frattesi did manage to put his name on the scoresheet at the death when his fierce drive had the better of Bonello.

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