Italy got their 2022 World Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a 2-0 victory against Northern Ireland in Parma.
Domenico Berardi gave the hosts the lead with just under an hour on the clock as he blasted home from close range before Ciro Immobile polished off a lethal counter-attack to double the advantage. That was how the game remained despite both sides having a number of opportunities to find the net.
Here are three things we learned from the clash:
Opening goalscorer Berardi is having a truly brilliant season for club and country this season and turned in another fantastic showing in Parma on Thursday evening. The winger was a constant threat to the visitors down the right flank with his pace and trickery proving potent weapons for the hosts.
His strike was typically brilliant as he raced away from the Northern Ireland defenders before lashing high into the net past Bailey Peacock-Farrell. The 26-year-old has now scored in each of his last three international games, making it 14 goals for the season for Berardi on both the club and international stage. Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini will hope he can certainly continue his hot streak for the foreseeable future and especially with EURO 2020 on the horizon.
Evans holds firm for the visitors
Whilst slightly sloppy defending saw the hosts claim the game, one of the Northern Ireland ranks did come out of the game with considerable credit. Leicester City defender Jonny Evans turned in a performance that was reminiscent of those he has been turning in for the Foxes throughout the campaign.
He marshaled the visitors’ backline extremely well, preventing the hosts from making the eventual scoreline even more emphatic. In all, he made a total of five defensive contributions throughout the game, which is the joint-most in the entire Northern Ireland squad. Within that, he contributed two clearances, two interceptions and one tackle.
The defender is surely set to continue being a key player for Northern Ireland throughout the rest of the international break and of course the remainder of the World Cup qualification campaign.
Northern Ireland’s World Cup woes continue
Having not qualified for a World Cup since the 1986 edition in Mexico, Northern Ireland came so close to booking a ticket to the 2018 tournament but fell at the final hurdle against Switzerland.
Whilst defeat for Ian Baraclough’s men in their first game is not terminal in their chances of qualifying for the next edition, another defeat does not bode well for the nation. They have now lost four out of their last five FIFA World Cup qualifiers, whilst they have not scored in each of their last four games having fallen to defeat to the likes of Germany, Norway, Switzerland now Italy.
With games coming up against Bulgaria and Lithuania, they must get back to winning ways sooner rather than later if they hold genuine aspirations of ending their 35-year exile from the showpiece tournament.
They can now be backed at a price of 13/5 with Betfair to beat the United States in a friendly meeting on Sunday evening.
Italy: Donnarumma (7); Emerson (6) (Spinazzola (6), 75′), Bonucci (6), Chiellini (7), Florenzi (6); Locatelli (7) (Pessina (N/A), 84′), Verratti (7); Pellegrini (6) (Barella (6), 64′); Insigne (7) (Pessina (N/A) 84′), Berardi (7) (Chiesa (6), 75′), Immobile (7).
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell (5); McNair (6), Evans (6), Smith (6), Cathcart (6), Dallas (6); Davis (6), Evans (5) (Saville (5), 46′); McCann (6) (Thompson (N/A), 78′); Whyte (6) (Lavery (5), 64′), Magennis (6) (Lafferty (N/A), 78′).
Goals: Berardi (14′), Immobile (38′)
Referee: Ali Palabiyik
Yellow Cards: Saville (48′), Thompson (90+3′)
Red Cards: N/A