Italy struggles to beat 10-man Armenia 3-1 in Euro qualifier

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              Italy's Alessio Romagnoli, right, reacts during the Euro 2020 group J qualifying soccer match between Armenia and Italy at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican stadium in Yerevan, Armenia, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Hakob Berberyan)
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YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Injury-depleted Italy required two late goals to secure a 3-1 win over 10-man Armenia on Thursday and extend its perfect start to European Championship qualifying.

Azzurri coach Roberto Mancini was enraged as his squad failed to produce any serious chances in the second half when it held a man advantage — until substitute Lorenzo Pellegrini broke the deadlock in the 77th.

Andrea Belotti then added another to go with his first-half equalizer.

Armenia took the initiative early on with Aleksandre Karapetyan finishing off a counterattack that began with an Italian defensive lapse.

Karapetyan was then sent off in first-half added time for picking up a second yellow card.

“In a way, the red card penalized us, because Armenia just focused on defending with 10 men and didn’t allow any spaces. If they had had 11, they would have pushed forward more,” Mancini said. “Armenia was physically superior today as they are midway through their seasons.”

With five wins in five matches, Italy leads Group J with a full 15 points. Second-place Finland was hosting Greece later.

Mancini had anticipated a difficult performance, pointing out that most of Italy’s players are short on physical fitness only two rounds into Serie A.

Making matters more complicated was the absence of injured captain Giorgio Chiellini, plus key forward Lorenzo Insigne, Bryan Cristante, Cristiano Biraghi and Mattia De Sciglio.

Midfielder Nicolò Barella turned the ball over to set Armenia on the counterattack that Karapetyan finished off with a shot to the far corner as Leonardo Bonucci failed to intervene.

Belotti’s equalizer came with a volley near the far post following a cross from Emerson Palmieri.

A minute later, Federico Bernardeschi hit the crossbar.

Karapetyan’s first yellow came for an argument with Marco Verratti and his second was for a raised elbow on Bonucci, although replays showed that it was a harsh decision.

Verratti was also booked, meaning he will miss Italy’s next match in Finland on Sunday due to accumulated cards.

Pellegrini’s goal — his first for the national team — came with a header following a cross from Bonucci as he was left unmarked 10 yards out.

Belotti’s second came with a difficult shot through a crowd of defenders that was aided by a poor effort from the goalkeeper.

Belotti plays for Torino, which started its season early for Europa League qualifying, meaning his physical condition was ahead of many Italy players.

“It was a tough start for us, as Armenia was very aggressive and the pitch was not in great condition,” Belotti said. “Their chances were all on the counterattack, but we slowly took control and could have had more goals, including one I missed badly, but fortunately we were able to turn it around.”

Armenia captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who recently joined Roma on loan in Italy’s Serie A, was a constant threat.