Italy’s World Cup qualification campaign got off to a good start as they beat Northern Ireland 2-0 at Parma’s Stadio Ennio Tardini on Thursday evening.
First-half goals from Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi and Lazio’s Ciro Immobile gave Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri a deserved win, and accurately reflected a dominant opening 45 minutes from the hosts.
Northern Ireland did emerge from half time reborn, though, and posed problems for Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Donnarumma in the second half, perhaps deserving a goal for their efforts.
It didn’t take Italy long to get themselves in front, and their opener came from a trademark Berardi strike. Coming in from the right, the Sassuolo forward squeezed a shot in past Bailey Peacock-Farrell from a tight angle.
Peacock-Farrell was called into action to keep Immobile out, but the Lazio forward rather scuffed his effort and made the goalkeeper’s job somewhat easier, and he was also on hand to deny Berardi his second goal of the evening.
But Italy had looked good with and without possession, and one of their threatened counterattacks saw them double their lead through Immobile. Lorenzo Insigne was given the ball deep in his own half after Gianluigi Donnarumma had claimed a poor cross and set his fellow Neapolitan loose on the left. Reaching the box, the European Golden Shoe holder fired in at Peacock-Farrell’s near post,
Gavin Whyte had a half-chance fly past Donnarumma’s post early in the second half, though it was never really troubling the AC Milan ‘keeper.
Donnarumma had to save a lackadaisical Azzurri twice in quick succession then, first denying Whyte before doing well to stop Michael Smith.
Northern Ireland were much improved in the second half compared to the first, and they looked to press the Azzurri higher up the pitch, which did pose some problems to Roberto Mancini’s side.
The visitors almost got the goal their second half deserved in the dying minutes. Italy were again careless in trying to play out from Donnarumma and Marco Verratti saw Italy lose possession in their box. The ball eventually broke for Paddy McNair in the area but he shot over and into the Tardini’s usual away section.
By the end, there was very little separating the sides, despite Leonardo Spinazzola and Federico Chiesa missing chances to add a third for Italy late on.