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Finland put to the sword by Italy in their opening Euro qualifier

FOOTBALL By AFP | March 24th 2019 | 3 min read
Photo [Courtesy]

Nicolo Barella and Moise Kean scored in either half to get new-look Italy off to a winning start in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier with a 2-0 victory over Finland in Udine on Saturday.

Barella, 22, rifled in on seven minutes with 19-year-old Kean marking his first start by doubling the Azzurri's account in the 74th minute, to the delight of the capacity crowd at the Stadio Friuli in north-eastern Italy.

"It wasn't easy because they closed down immediately, changing the way they play and putting five defenders," said Italy coach Roberto Mancini.

"We made some mistakes early on, but did far better in the second half and created many more scoring opportunities.

"Kean has quality, enormous potential and it all depends on him, he has to work hard."

Italy are rebuilding under coach Mancini after the four-time world champions' shock failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.

Italy are rebuilding under coach Mancini [Courtesy]

And the former Manchester City manager's first task is to get them through to the finals of the European championships, a tournament which the footballing giants have won just once, 51 years ago.

Italy, now 18th in the FIFA rankings, are favourites in a Group J which also includes Armenia, Bosnia and Liechtenstein.

Mancini's side had been hit by injuries to forwards Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne with Alessandro Florenzi also on the injury list.

Kean became the first player born after 2000 to start for Italy.

The teenager formed a three-man strike-force alongside fellow Juventus forward Federico Bernardeschi and Ciro Immobile.

Kean's only previous appearance had come as a second-half substitute last November in a friendly against the United States.

But it was midfielder Barella who broke through minutes into the game after the Finnish defence failed to clear a Marco Verratti free-kick.

Cagliari player Barella pounced to rifle in a low volley, leaving Finnish goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky with no chance.

Cristiano Piccini hit the side netting after a one-two with Kean, with Bernardeschi having a penalty appeal denied just before half-time.

- Profligate Pukki -

Photo [Courtesy]

Teemu Pukki missed a chance to equalise in the 65th minute, meeting a Robin Lod cross but firing wide in front of goal to the frustration of the small contingent of visiting fans.

But the Azzurri doubled their lead midway through the second half with Lazio's Immobile bursting through midfield to set up Kean, who made no mistake, racing forward to slot in his first international goal.

Serie A top-scorer Fabio Quagliarella came on for the last ten minutes for the 36-year-old's first cap in over eight years to thundering applause from the crowd.

The Sampdoria striker has scored 21 goals in 28 Serie A games, two more than Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.

And the veteran was twice denied a dream return with Hradecky saving, and minutes later his goal-bound effort clipping the post.

"It's a pity that it was almost the perfect dream," said Quagliarella. "But there was a save and then I hit the bar. I had two chances, it's a shame they didn't go in."

Roma teenager Nicolo Zaniolo, 19, also got his first cap when he came on for the last five minutes.

Italy -- European champions in 1968 and runners-up in 2000 and 2012 -- keep their unbeaten run in qualifiers going back nearly 13 years, with 25 wins and six draws.

Mancini's side play their second qualifier against Liechtenstein in Parma on Tuesday, with 59th-ranked Finland travelling to Armenia.


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