9 September 2014 22:44
Antonio Conte’s perfect start as Italy coach continued as his side began Euro 2016 qualifying with a 2-0 win in Norway on Tuesday.
Goals from Simone Zaza and Leonardo Bonucci sealed a comfortable Group H triumph in Oslo amid the four-time world champions again looking at home in Conte’s 3-5-2 formation.
Expectations were high in Italy as the 45-year-old, who took the reins having led Juventus to three successive Serie A titles, oversaw his first competitive game.
And his Italy team did not disappoint, showing the same flair that earned a 2-0 friendly win over Netherlands in the head coach’s maiden match last week.
From the moment that Zaza set them on their way in the 16th minute, Italy assumed complete control in a performance of craft and guile.
Norway had little answer and were left to contemplate a seventh consecutive game without tasting victory, while Italy’s win came at a cost as Ciro Immobile left the field on a stretcher late on.
Italy were without talisman Andrea Pirlo – who recently revealed a conversation with former club coach Conte persuaded him to postpone a planned international retirement – through injury.
Yet his absence did not show as the visitors pressed forward initially, with wing-backs Mattia De Sciglio and Matteo Darmian causing Norway problems.
The upshot was early waves of attacks from Conte’s men as Norway struggled to retain possession.
Italy’s endeavour brought early reward, Zaza breaking the deadlock.
Having received De Sciglio’s pass following a clever Immobile dummy, he unleashed a powerful effort that deflected off the inside of Havard Nordtveit’s leg and beyond Orjan Nyland.
To their credit, Norway initially responded impressively as Joshua King hit narrowly over the crossbar.
Italy continued to threaten as well, though, with Emanuele Giaccherini stinging Nyland’s hands from distance.
Giaccherini went close again just before the break when a powerful volley went narrowly wide following a superb counter-attack.
There was plenty of quality on show after half-time from Italy, although their impressive play did not lead to many openings.
That seemed to give the home side confidence as they grew into the game, even if their final ball left something to be desired.
And Norway were rueing their failure to capitalise on good possession in the 62nd minute when Bonucci met Manuel Pasqual’s cross with a powerful header that flew into the net.
That goal seemed to knock the wind out of the hosts’ sails, and they were relieved not to fall three behind when De Sciglio forced Nyland into a solid save.
Nyland had to be on high alert again in the 77th minute, producing a fine stop with his foot to deny Alessandro Florenzi’s follow-up after Zaza had rattled the crossbar.
And even when they beat the goalkeeper, Italy could not grab a third with Vegard Forren producing a superb goalline clearance as Zaza was denied again.
That proved the final opportunity, although the game ended on a sour note for Italy when Immobile was forced to leave the field on a stretcher.