Italy beats Estonia 3-0 in Euro 2012 qualifier

Italy performed at its best amid scandal again, cruising to a

3-0 win over Estonia on Friday to maintain a five-point lead in its

European Championship qualifying group.

United States-born forward Giuseppe Rossi put Italy in front in

the 21st minute at the Alberto Braglia stadium after being set by

Cassano, who doubled the lead in the 39th from a Riccardo Montolivo

pass.

Giampaolo Pazzini added a third goal by finishing off a

counterattack in the 68th, and Rossi and Andrea Pirlo also hit the

post in a dazzling display from the Azzurri.

”We really wanted to control the game and I think we also

played good football,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said.

The match came three days after the latest match-fixing scandal

to rock the national sport resulted in 16 arrests up and down

Italy, with numerous more under investigation for allegedly

arranging games.

”From this morning on we focused explicitly on the match,”

Prandelli said. ”We tried to block everything else out and we came

out onto the pitch with a lot of enthusiasm.”

Italy won the 2006 World Cup at the height of the previous major

match-fixing scandal, and the Azzurri won the 1982 title in the

wake of a widespread betting scandal much like the one that

surfaced this week.

Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi was linked to the latest

scandal in Italian media earlier Friday, but the prosecutor in

Cremona leading the investigation quickly announced that the Roma

player was not involved.

While De Rossi was not in the squad for this match, the news was

not taken lightly by his teammates.

”Just because he’s such a big name they wanted to put him on

the front page. Sometimes it’s a lack of respect,” goalkeeper

Gianluigi Buffon said.

Italy is five points ahead of Slovenia in Group C, with Serbia

eight points back and Estonia nine points behind.

The Azzurri have now won five of their six qualifiers, with

their only hiccup a 0-0 draw at Northern Ireland in October –

showing Italy has regained some of its swagger after an

embarrassing first-round elimination from the World Cup.

Rossi was one of the last to be cut by former coach Marcello

Lippi from Italy’s squad in South Africa last year and he responded

by scoring 32 goals for Villarreal in all competitions in the

season that ended last month – prompting speculation he could be

headed to European champion Barcelona.

”He has really become a reference point for us,” Prandelli

said. ”He realizes what he’s capable of now. He knows how to play

with his teammates and he really moves well in the area. He’s got a

lot of talent.”

Alberto Aquilani directed Cassano and Rossi in Italy’s 4-3-1-2

formation, while Estonia responded with a traditional 4-4-2

spearheaded by Tarmo Kink and Sergei Zenjov.

Italy immediately took control but Cassano wasted two early

opportunities, shooting directly at the goalkeeper in both the

seventh and 13th minutes – with the second coming from an excellent

set up by Rossi, who then nearly scored with a header from the

ensuing corner in the 14th.

Five minutes later, Rossi collected an excellent through ball

but had his shot blocked by Estonia goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko.

Shortly after Rossi’s goal, Aquilani walked off with a head

injury and was replaced by Palermo’s Antonio Nocerino, prompting

Prandelli to move Montolivo into the playmaker position.

Kink had a rare shot on goal for Estonia in the 20th but it was

controlled easily by Buffon.

Rossi’s shot off the post came in the 30th, while Pirlo found

the goalframe from a free kick in the 66th.

Cassano and Rossi both exited to standing ovations when they

were substituted during the second half.

Italy next faces Ireland in a friendly in Liege, Belgium, on

Tuesday, while Estonia visits the Faeroe Islands for another

qualifier.

Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Christian Maggio, Giorgio Chiellini,

Andrea Ranocchia, Federico Balzaretti, Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea

Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Alberto Aquilani (Antonio Nocerino, 24),

Antonio Cassano (Giampaolo Pazzini, 65), Giuseppe Rossi (Sebastian

Giovinco, 79).

Estonia: Sergei Pareiko, Enar Jaager, Taavi Rahn, Raio Piiroja,

Taijo Teniste (Kaimar Saag, 58), Sander Puri, Martin Vunk, Ragnar

Klavan, Dmitri Kruglov, Tarmo Kink (Gert Kams, 79), Sergei Zenjov

(Jarmo Ahjupera, 58).