Euro 2016 qualifiers: Italy grinds out a 1-0 win against Malta

Southampton striker Graziano Pelle scored a first-half winner on his debut as Italy scraped a 1-0 victory away to 10-man Malta in their Euro 2016 qualifier on Monday.

Italy dominated from the outset at the Ta’Qal stadium but ultimately failed to turn chances into goals as Malta, which saw Michael Mifsud sent off before the half-​hour mark, kept bodies in defence for long periods and sought to break on the counter-attack.

Pelle’s performances in the English Premier League this season had caught the eye of Italy coach Antonio Conte, who lined the big striker up alongside Ciro Immobile in the hope that his powerful physique would provide extra options up front.

Pelle was a constant threat in the Maltese box and saw a first-half header smack off the crossbar from one of several inviting crosses by Fiorentina midfielder Manuel Pasquale.

Graziano Pelle fighting for the ball. Photo: Reuters

But despite his winner and the precious three points that mean only Italy and leaders Croatia are unbeaten in Group G, Pelle indicated there was little cause for celebration in the Azzurri camp.

“I’m happy I scored and we got the three points but we have to do better,” he told Sky Sport Italia.

Although Conte was happy with a third win after defeating Norway and Azerbaijan, he expects Italy to raise their game for Croatia in Milan next month. 

“The big game against Croatia will tell us just how good we are after these first two months,” Conte said.

“We need to get down to work if we’re to succeed.”

This was especially so considering that Croatia thrashed Azerbaijan 6-0 on Monday, a team which Italy could only beat 2-1 when the two team met last Friday.

Italy meet Croatia in Milan next month. 

Source: AFP, Reuters

Related report: Croatia hammers Azerbaijan 6-0

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