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Pellè earns Italy victory against Malta

Italy 1-0 Malta
Graziano Pellè's goal on 69 minutes ended Malta's resistance and lifted Antonio Conte's side level on points with Croatia at the Group H summit.

Highlights: Italy 1-0 Malta
  • Italy beat Malta 1-0 to move level on points with Group H leaders Croatia
  • Graziano Pellè scores the only goal midway through the second half
  • Italy muster just one shot on target throughout the first half
  • Manolo Gabbiadini is denied by the bar soon after the interval
  • Next matches: Italy v Bulgaria, Malta v Azerbaijan (Sunday)

Italy had to work hard to beat Malta but Graziano Pellè's second-half goal was enough to take the Azzurri level with Croatia at the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group H summit.

Despite playing with three creative midfielders and three attackers, Italy struggled to find space against an organised Malta defence. Antonio Conte's men enjoyed most of the possession in the first half but failed to threaten Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg.

Meanwhile, Clayton Failla fired over from distance as Malta slowly started to grow in confidence. The visitors – coached by Italian Pietro Ghedin – went as close as it gets to taking a surprise lead soon after when Alfred Effiong dribbled past Leonardo Bonucci on the left and sent a dangerous shot just wide of Gianluigi Buffon and the far post.

Italy finally had their first attempt on target after 36 minutes, when Hogg was forced to dive to his left to palm away a deflected attempt by Andrea Bertolacci. Éder then slalomed past several Malta defenders only to rifle a low effort from the edge of the box centimetres wide.

Italy continued to attack after the break and threatened when Manolo Gabbiadini curled a wonderful strike from the edge of the area with his left foot. Hogg could only watch the ball hitting the bar to his right. The Maltese goalkeeper, however, had less luck when Pellè deflected in with his shoulder following a neat cross from the right by substitute Antonio Candreva. The same goalscorer had rescued Italy the last time these teams met Malta; this was an even more important three points.

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