Azerbaijan 0-2 Italy
Italy emerged triumphant from a potentially tricky EURO 2004™ encounter in the Azerbaijani capital Baku.
An own goal from Tarlan Akhmedov and a superb free-kick by Juventus FC striker Alessandro Del Piero ensured that the Azzurri took all three points and went some way towards banishing memories of their controversial FIFA World Cup elimination at the hands of the Korean Republic.
Although the final margin of victory was comfortable enough, it took Italy a while to get into their stride, and the home side created a number of half-chances, but lacked the class to really threaten their opponents.
Francesco Coco replaced the now-retired Paolo Maldini at left-back, while coach Giovanni Trappatoni answered those who criticised his defensive tactics by fielding an attacking trident of Christian Vieri, Filippo Inzaghi and Del Piero. Initially, Italy seemed unsure of their new-look line-up, wasting a number of opportunities and consistently over-hitting long balls into the penalty area.
However, once the early jitters were overcome, Italy were always in control and ran out worthy winners. In the 25th minute, Christian Panucci's free-kick was met by Inzaghi, whose powerful downward header beat Dmitriy Kramarenko but came back off a post.
However, seven minutes later, Italy did take the lead. Following a powerful burst down the right by AS Roma's Damiano Tommasi, his low ball into the penalty area was cut out by Akmedov, but the luckless central defender only succeeded in diverting the ball past his own goalkeeper to hand Italy an unexpected bonus.
Italy grew in confidence following the goal, and they kept possession for the next few minutes. However, Azerbaijan came back, but the Italian defence were able to scramble away the half-chances that were created and the away side went in at the interval with their tails up.
The home team came out with a renewed sense of purpose, and enjoyed their first real period of sustained pressure without ever threatening to get back on level terms. The result was put beyond all doubt in the 62nd minute, when Inzaghi was brought down around 25 metres from goal and Del Piero gleefully seized his chance, spectacularly curling an unstoppable effort into the top right-hand corner of the net.
From that point, Italy never looked likely to relinquish control, with Inzaghi having another goal disallowed for handball, before being replaced by Andrea Pirlo, who came on to win his first cap following a glittering career in the Under-21 side. His presence illustrates the embarrassment of riches which Trapattoni enjoys up front, a strength in depth that should be good enough to ensure the Azzurri qualify from Group 9 with something to spare.
Satisfied in defeat
Despite the defeat, Azerbaijan coach Vagyf Sadygov pronounced himself satifsied, saying: "I am satisfied how the game went. It is unlucky to concede an own goal, but no goalkeeper in the world could have saved the second goal."
Playing under pressure
In contrast, his counterpart was happy with the result but not with how his team played. "It was important to make a good start in this campaign," said Trapattoni. "In the first half, we had problems going forward through the middle. The players were under tremendous pressure. After a rather lucky opening goal, we improved in the second half and deserved to win."