Italy 3-0 Azerbaijan Alex Merlim scored either side of half-time, the first with Azerbaijan down to four men, as the holders started with a victory.
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- Alex Merlim scores either side of half-time to give holders Italy winning start
- Daniel Giasson also beats impressive Azerbaijan keeper Rovshan Huseynli
- Red card for Azerbaijan's Amadeu late in first half proves crucial
- Watch highlights from midnight CET
- Next in Group D: Azerbaijan v Czech Republic (Friday), Czech Republic v Italy (Sunday)
UEFA Futsal EURO holders Italy got their title defence off to a winning start in Group D thanks in part to a double from Alex Merlim.
Both goalkeepers were brilliant in the first period, especially Azerbaijan's Rovshan Huseynli with save after save. But with 95 seconds left in the half, Amadeu received a second yellow card and Merlim's emphatic finish ensured Italy made the extra man count. Just nine seconds after the break Merlim did it again, robbing the ball and shooting in strongly, and after Daniel Giasson turned in Murilo's corner, there was no way back for Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan had been under pressure from the off, the unbeatable Huseynli keeping Italy at bay, but they seemed to have weathered the storm. However, Amadeu's dismissal gave Italy the opportunity and the European champions, specifically Merlim, pounced.
Italy goalkeeper Stefano Mammarella's reputation goes before him and he was in world-class form. Despite the final score, though, Huseynli perhaps eclipsed him with around 20 saves, several truly outstanding. It was not his fault that the pressure told.
Azerbaijan must respond
Under Tino Pérez, just as in past tournaments with Alesio at the helm, Azerbaijan have bags of talent but sometimes ill-discipline gets the better of them. The Czech Republic are beatable, they will feel, and there are few better coaches than Pérez to regroup them even in the absence of the suspended Amadeu.
Roberto Menichelli, Italy coach
I congratulate my players, they did well, it was not easy against a good Azerbaijan team. We started on the front-foot, we are champions and it is not easy to start a tournament with this tag. I’m a bit disappointed as we had to defend for the whole second half but we had no choice against the flying goalkeeper. We’d have done the same if we were behind.