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Italy close gap with victory over Northern Ireland

Italy 3-0 Northern Ireland
Federico Viviani opened the scoring before Antonio Rozzi and Andrea Belotti struck in the closing stages to give Luigi Di Biagio's side the win.

Antonio Rozzi (left) hit Italy's second in their 3-0 win
Antonio Rozzi (left) hit Italy's second in their 3-0 win ©Mikhail Shapaev

Italy closed the gap to UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying Group 9 leaders Belgium with a 3-0 victory over Northern Ireland.

Buoyed by their win at table-topping Belgium last time out, Italy forged ahead through Federico Viviani's 26th-minute free-kick but they had to wait until the final four minutes to put the result beyond doubt thanks to goals from Antonio Rozzi and Andrea Belotti. Italy move to within three points of Belgium with a game in hand while Northern Ireland are bottom of the section without a point.

The Azzurrini controlled the game early on and although Daniele Baselli and Kirk Millar traded long-range efforts it was a set-piece which broke the deadlock. Viviani struck a delightful free-kick which gave Conor Brennan no chance.

Belotti spurned Italy's best chance to double their lead before half-time and James Gray almost equalised for the visitors with a header. The hosts had to wait until the 86th minute to grab their second as substitute Rozzi collected Salvatore Molina's pass less than two minutes after coming off the bench and finished off a swift counterattack. Italy hit Northern Ireland on the break once more two minutes later, this time Belotti was on hand to complete the move with a simple finish.

Italy coach Luigi Di Biagio said: "We were aware that it wouldn’t be easy, but the lads read the game well. We played well in the first half and I am satisfied even though we still lack continuity. We started slowly in the second half but we increased our pace. I’m happy with [Andrea] Belotti’s goal and also for [Antonio] Rozzi because he came on with the right attitude."

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