Alessandro Florenzi-inspired Italy wear down Norway
Euro 2016 qualifying, Stadio Olimpico - Italy 2 (Florenzi 73, Pelle 82) Norway 1 (Tettey 23)
A second-half flurry inspired by Alessandro Florenzi spared Italy the humiliation of a first home qualifying defeat for 26 years and consigned a spirited Norway to the Euro 2016 play-offs.
Florenzi capitalised on a misunderstanding between Orjan Nyland and Haitam Aleesami to poke in a 73rd-minute equaliser after Alexander Tettey’s superb first-half strike had given the visitors hope of a famous win on a wet and windy night in Rome.
Norway knew only victory would seal their automatic qualification for next summer’s tournament if Croatia beat Malta and as they poured forward in desperation, Florenzi crossed for Graziano Pelle to complete the comeback and cement Italy’s status as Group H winners.
Italy went into the match on a 38-game unbeaten run in home qualifiers and had never tasted competitive defeat in Rome, but Tettey threatened to throw the form book out when he drilled a low shot through a crowd of bodies and past Gianluigi Buffon with Norway's only shot of a cagey first half.
Norway's Alexander Tettey (top) is challenged by Italy's Riccardo Montolivo during their Euro 2016 group H qualifying soccer match at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Italy, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Max RossiReuters
Antonio Conte's relief was palpable when Florenzi's industry finally took its toll on the tiring Norway defence and he can now turn his full attentions to preparing for Euro 2016, when he will hope to once again be able to call upon the talents of midfield creators Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti.
2' - CHANCE: Italy begin with purpose and drive, working the ball out to the right where De Sciglio clips an inviting cross in and Pelle heads just wide of Nyland's goal. Ominous for Norway.
23' - GOAL! Italy 0-1 Norway. Out of nothing, Per-Mathias Hogmo's men have the goal they so desperately need. A free-kick from just inside the Italy half is half-cleared out to Tettey, and the Norwich City midfielder meets it left-footed with a superb low strike that flies through a mass of bodies and past Buffon. Huge goal.
35' - CHANCE: A Pirlo-esque through ball from Montolivo catches the Norway defence sleeping for the first time and finds Pelle, but the Southampton striker can only direct his header wide when very well placed.
36' - CHANCE: Nyland distinguishes himself for the first time as a Florenzi corner is cleared out to Soriano, who sends a low volley spinning towards the bottom corner before the Norway goalkeeper tips it wide. The visitors under pressure now.
45' - CHANCE: Another decent cross from Darmian is met by a powerful header from Pelle, but Nyland backpedals and tips it over his crossbar.
45+1' - CHANCE: Florenzi unleashes a swerving strike from 25 yards and Nyland makes his best save yet, flying to his right to parry it away from the far corner.
61' - CHANCE: A raking 50-yard pass from Bonucci finds the head of Soriano running behind the Norway defence and the Sampdoria midfielder nods the ball into the path of team-mate Eder, who can't poke the ball past Nyland before the two men collide.
74' - GOAL! Italy 1-1 Norway. A horrible misunderstanding between Nyland and Aleesami, who tries to chest a Giovinco cross back to his goalkeeper but instead allows Florenzi to sneak in and poke in the equaliser.
Norway's Alexander Tettey (L) celebrates with his teammates Haitam Aleesami (R) and Omar Elabdellaoui after scoring against Italy during their Euro 2016 group H qualifying soccer match at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Italy, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Max RReuters
77' - CHANCE: A Darmian cross from the right ricochets through to Giovinco, whose first-time shot forces another impressive save from Nyland.
80' - GOAL DISALLOWED: Giovinco slips the ball through a tired-looking Norway defence for Candreva, who squares the ball for Florenzi to tap in only for the assistant referee to rule that the Lazio winger was offside when the pass was played.
82' - GOAL! Italy 2-1 Norway. The Azzurri have taken full advantage of Norway's attacking desperation and finally have their reward. Florenzi curls a ball to the back post and Pelle sends a shot on the half-volley looping over Nyland.
- With this victory Italy have extended their unbeaten run in home qualifiers to 39 matches, stretching back to a 3-2 loss to Denmark in Naples in September 1999.
- Graziano Pelle has now scored four goals in eight senior appearances for Italy.
Pirlo and Verratti sorely missed by unconvincing Italy
This was always going to be a hard game for Italy to look good in, regardless of the result. Norway had conceded just eight goals in nine qualifying matches - five of those coming in one horrible performance against Croatia back in March - and based their Euro 2016 charge on the impressive understanding between centre-backs Vegard Forren and Even Hovland.
DATE IMPORTED:October 13, 2015Italy's Graziano Pelle celebrates after scoring against Norway during their Euro 2016 group H qualifying soccer match at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Italy, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Max RossiReuters
There was also more than an element of fortune in how the visitors took the lead, the ball looping kindly to Alexander Tettey on the edge of the penalty area to fire in with his side's only shot of the first half. Yet before and after that moment Italy were worryingly short of creative ideas beyond wing-backs Mattia De Sciglio and Matteo Darmian trying to find Graziano Pelle with hopeful crosses or long balls.
Despite Riccardo Montolivo's best efforts on his first Azzurri start for more than a year, the absence of Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti deprived Italy of any midfield imagination. In the end Norway were overcome with attrition rather than artistry, the freshness of Sebastian Giovinco and the perseverance of Alessandro Florenzi turning the tide. Antonio Conte will need his creators fit and firing in France next summer.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Alessandro Florenzi (Italy) The only Italy player to regularly cause a degree of panic in the Norway defence for the first hour with his jinking runs, dangerous crosses and, when the opportunities presented themselves, fierce shots. His quick-thinking to pounce on Haitam Aleesami's undercooked chest back to Orjan Nyland broke the visitors' resolve at a stroke and as gaps opened up in the final 10 minutes, he took full advantage to set up Graziano Pelle for the chance that won the game.