Haifa: Italy’s football team gave new chief coach Giampiero Ventura a positive start as it began its 2018 World Cup qualifiers with a convincing 3-1 victory over Israel despite playing much of the second half without defender Giorgio Chiellini who was sent off.
It was a tough but deserved 3-1 win here on Monday as the Azzurri’s determination and character shone through at the toughest moments after Chiellini was sent off after 55 minutes.
Italy had a good first half as Graziano Pellè opened the scoring in the 15th minute before Antonio Candreva made it 2-0 from the spot after 32 minutes.
Tal Ben Haim pulled one back for the hosts in the 35th minutes before Ciro Immobile made it 3-1 to wrap up the points in the 83rd minute.
Ventura also impressed as he stuck with two up front despite going a man down and that made a difference in the end.
The coach stuck with a 3-5-2 formation for his competitive debut with some changes in personnel. Gianluigi Buffon was in goal behind the Juventus defensive trio of Andrea Barzagli, Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
In midfield, Daniel De Rossi’s injury opened space for Marco Verratti to feature as a playmaker with Marco Parolo and Giacomo Bonaventura alongside him while Candreva and Lucas Antonelli were out wide. Up front was the duo of Pellè and Eder.
It was Italy’s first time at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa and the ground was sold out for the occasion. It was not the first encounter against Israel with the three previous meetings against the 76th ranked side in the world culminating in two wins and one draw.
After a moment of remembrance for the victims of the Italian earthquake, Ventura’s side began to play with a good rhythm. Antonelli and Bonaventura made dangerous runs while Parolo covered.
One of these led to the opening goal as in the 15th minute Verratti picked out Antonelli on the left and he was able to square it to Pellè who poked home into the empty net to take his international scoring total up to nine.
The side looked focused and careful in the first 30 minutes. That was made the most of in the 32nd minute as Ben Bitton brought down Bonaventura and the Russian referee awarded a penalty. Candreva then stepped up to send Israel goalkeeper David Goresh the wrong way.
Italy were then surprised three minutes later. Chiellini lost the ball and Ben Haim was able to lob Buffon with a perfect, delicate effort.
The Azzurri looked to respond straight away through Eder who saw his effort saved down by Goresh. The Israeli goalkeeper also had to make an important save just before the half-time whistle from a Pellè header.
The Azzurri were working well with Antonelli and Bonaventura in wider positions but also through Verratti in the middle.
The second half opened with Eder putting a shot past the post with a chipped shot. Things became more difficult in the 52nd minute as Israel came out and forced Buffon to make a save from Nir Bitton.
Then in the 55th minute, Chiellini picked up his second yellow and his teammates were left a man down.
Forced to shore things up, Ventura substituted Bonaventura for Ogbonna in the 63rd minute and he also brought Alessandro Florenzi on for Candreva straight after.
In the meantime, Italy were made to defend as Israel forced two important saves from Buffon and he was able to push a Eran Zahavi effort round the post.
The final change came in the 71st minute with Immobile on for Eder. The Azzurri were struggling at this point.
Then, in the 83rd minute, Pellè nodded the ball down to Immobile who made it 3-1 with a great finish across goal and he had a chance to net his second three minutes later.
It was an important win that came just a few days after the defeat for Italy to France in Bari and there is a month to go until the next task in this World Cup qualifying group against Spain in Turin on October 6.