Italy’s World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a strong start on Thursday evening, when they defeated Northern Ireland 2-0 at Parma’s Stadio Ennio Tardini.
First-half goals from Domenico Berardi of Sassuolo and Ciro Immobile of Lazio gave Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri a deserving victory, and it correctly represented the hosts’ impressive first 45 minutes.
Northern Ireland, on the other hand, returned from halftime rejuvenated and created problems for Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Gianluigi Donnarumma in the second half, possibly deserving a goal for their efforts.
It didn’t take Italy long to take the lead, and their goal came from a signature Berardi shot. The Sassuolo forward came in from the right and squeezed a shot past Bailey Peacock-Farrell from a close angle.
Peacock-Farrell was called upon to hold Immobile out, but the Lazio forward scuffed his attempt, making the goalkeeper’s job simpler. He was also on hand to prevent Berardi from scoring his second goal of the evening.
However, Italy had looked strong both with and without the ball, and one of their threatened counter-attacks saw them double their lead by Immobile. After Gianluigi Donnarumma claimed a bad cross and set his fellow Neapolitan free on the left, Lorenzo Insigne was given the ball deep in his half. As the European Golden Boot winner reached the box, he shot in at Peacock-close Farrell’s post.
Early in the second half, Gavin Whyte had a half-chance fly past Donnarumma’s post, but it never really troubled the AC Milan keeper.
Donnarumma then had to save a sloppy Azzurri twice in fast succession, first denying Whyte and then doing well to save Michael Smith.
Northern Ireland fared much better in the second half than they did in the first, pressing the Azzurri further up the pitch, which caused some trouble for Roberto Mancini’s foot.
In the dying minutes, the visitors came close to scoring the goal that their second half deserved. Italy’s carelessness in attempting to play out from Donnarumma and Marco Verratti resulted in Italy losing possession in their box. The ball finally broke for Paddy McNair in the area, but he fired over the Tardini’s normal away section.
Despite Leonardo Spinazzola and Federico Chiesa missing opportunities to add a third for Italy late on, there was not little dividing the sides by the end.