Italy struggles to a 1-0 win over Faeroe Islands
Italy struggled to a 1-0 win over the Faeroe Islands on Friday but still moved to within one victory of qualifying for the European Championship.
After AC Milan forward Antonio Cassano put Italy ahead with relative ease in the 11th minute, the Faeroes hit the woodwork twice at the Torsvolli stadium - first with a long shot from Suni Olsen that bounced off the post in the 24th and then with a close-range effort from Lamhauge Holst that hit the crossbar in the 71st.
''The (goalframe) gave us a big hand today,'' Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said. ''The good thing was we got the three points and took another step toward qualifying. So it wasn't really a disaster.''
A players' strike postponed the start of Serie A last weekend, leaving Italy's players short of match practice.
''We lacked a bit of order and that last key pass and the water and the pitch didn't help,'' said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, referring to the rain at the start. ''We should have done better.''
Still, with six wins and a draw, Italy leads Group C with 19 points and can qualify for next year's tournament in Poland and Ukraine by beating Slovenia in Florence on Tuesday.
''We're close but we haven't done it yet,'' Prandelli said. ''This seemed like an easy match, too, but it wasn't.''
Slovenia and Serbia are tied for second with 11 points each, Estonia is next with 10, Northern Ireland has nine and the Faeroe Islands, an 18-island archipelago located between Scotland and Iceland, remained last with four points.
The players on Italy's bench were bundled up in knitted hats and heavy jackets due to the cold and wet conditions, which were also a factor when Italy struggled on its last visit here, eking out a 2-1 win in 2007.
''It was very similar to the match three years ago,'' Buffon said. ''The first 10 minutes were great, we had a bunch of scoring chances, and then we made things more complicated for ourselves.''
Making matters more complicated this time was the strike, which meant that many of the Azzurri hadn't played a match of some significance since beating World Cup holder Spain 2-1 in a friendly Aug. 10.
The lack of condition didn't appear a factor at the start, with Faeroes' goalkeeper Rene Torgard pushing away a shot from Riccardo Montolivo.
Ten minutes later, Cassano collected a pass from Andrea Pirlo behind the Faeroes' defense and dribbled around goalkeeper Torgard to score into an empty net.
The Faeroes' first threat came in the 20th, with a shot from Joan Edmundsson that sailed high after an apparent deflection, and the hosts argued for a corner to no avail.
The crowd at Torsvolli stadium grew to life when Olsen then hit the post and applauded some more as Torgard - who works as a mechanic - blocked shots from Daniele De Rossi and Domenico Criscito before halftime.
Montolivo had another chance at the start of the second half, but his shot hit De Rossi in the back and the Azzurri then struggled some more.
Torgard blocked another effort from De Rossi in the 66th and Hjalgrim Elittor then provided a perfect cross that Holst redirected off the bar. With Italy clearly struggling, Buffon was forced to stop a bouncing header from Pol Johannus Justinussen a minute later.
However, Italy maintained the clean sheet and can still qualify with two matches to spare.
Faeroe Islands: Rene Torgard, Jonas Tor Naes, Johan Davidsen, Rogvi Baldvinsson, Atli Gregersen, Pol Johannus Justinussen (Simun Samuelsen, 87), Frodi Benjaminsen, Suni Olsen (Atli Danielsen, 76), Christian Lamhauge Holst (Christian Mouritsen, 87), Joan Edmundsson, Hjalgrim Elittor.
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Christian Maggio, Andrea Ranocchia, Giorgio Chiellini, Domenico Criscito, Thiago Motta (Alberto Aquilani, 73), Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo, Antonio Cassano (Mario Balotelli, 85), Giuseppe Rossi (Giampaolo Pazzini, 58).