Ciro Immobile bagged a brace, with Nicolò Zaniolo and Nicolò Barella also on target, as Italy are crushing Armenia 4-0 at half-time.
The Azzurri concluded their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, already sure of their status as top seeds, and were seeking another historic victory. It was their 11thin a row, the 10thin one calendar year (both new records) and maintains their perfect tally in Group J.
Roberto Mancini rotated the squad after Friday’s 3-0 win away to Bosnia-Herzegovina, bringing in the likes of Alessio Romagnoli, Nicolò Zaniolo, Ciro Immobile and Federico Chiesa. Armenia had Rumyan Hovsepyan suspended, Henrikh Mkhitaryan injured and new coach Abraham Khashmanyan debuted with a 1-0 home defeat to Greece.
Armenia’s only previous game on Italian soil was a 2-2 draw in October 2013, losing both home fixtures.
The first save of the match was by Salvatore Sirigu, denying Edgar Babayan at the near post after Jorginho’s costly slip, but the Azzurri were otherwise dominant in Palermo.
A free kick was only cleared as far as Federico Chiesa, who floated a delicate ball to the back stick for Immobile’s cushioned header. Although two other Italy players were offside, the Lazio striker had timed his run correctly.
Under 30 seconds later, it was 2-0. Immobile was involved again, his slide-rule pass sending Zaniolo through a gap in the defence and the 20-year-old Roma talent nutmegged the goalkeeper with the inside of his right boot. It was his first senior goal for the Azzurri.
It should’ve been 3-0, but Chiesa’s cross-shot was deflected inches wide, then Immobile sprung the offside trap on Jorginho’s assist only to hesitate and allow Aram Airapetyan to steal it off his foot.
Leonardo Bonucci’s terrible back-pass turned into a gift for Aleksandre Karapetyan, whose lob beat Sirigu only to bounce off the crossbar on 22 minutes.
Immobile’s finish was a little weak after a give-and-go with Zaniolo, allowing the goalkeeper to smother, but the third goal did arrive with more style.
Bonucci saw Barella’s run and sent the cross-field pass on to his foot, so the Inter midfielder could score with his first touch, dinking it over the on-rushing Airapetyan.
Chiesa was unlucky not to make it 4-0 moments later, his first touch excellent to control Barella’s pass and then an angled drive smacking against the far post.
Immobile did get the fourth, as he sprung the offside trap on a splendid Zaniolo through ball and flicked it past Airapetyan to deposit into an empty net.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s cross only skimmed the head of Chiesa diving in at the back post, then Immobile was about to complete his hat-trick on the stroke of half-time at the end of a great team passing move, but his curler clipped the base of the far post.
Bologna winger Riccardo Orsolini made his senior Italy debut for the second half, replacing Barella and moving Zaniolo back into midfield.
Di Lorenzo got on the end of Jorginho’s ball to the back post, but couldn’t quite steer it on target from the tightest of angles.
Poor Chiesa was still waiting for his first Italy goal, as he cut inside for a right-foot curler from 25 metres out that bounced off the far top corner of the frame, his second time rattling the woodwork this evening.
Orsolini turned inches wide from the edge of the box, but Zaniolo completed his brace when firing in with his left foot from the edge of the box after good work from Jorginho.
Alessio Romagnoli also got in on the act with the sixth goal. This one was rather less spectacular than the others, because Armando Izzo’s header from a corner was only parried and a defender kicked the clearance on to Romagnoli’s foot, the ricochet going in from six yards.
Moments later, Orsolini was tripped as he ran into the box and Jorginho converted the penalty by sending Airapetyan the wrong way.
In the past, Italy would’ve taken their foot off the gas and relaxed, but this team is out to entertain. Orsolini scored on his senior Italy debut, as Chiesa controlled a Jorginho cross-field pass, twisted and turned between two defenders to float the cross on to the head of the Bologna winger for 8-0.
Armenia did get one back, ensuring in their four meetings with Italy, they have always been on target. Jorginho’s sideways pass was intercepted and Babayan hit a screamer into the top corner from outside the box, just a few minutes into Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret’s debut.
It still wasn’t over, as Orsolini returned the favour with a cut-back and cross for Chiesa’s glancing header from five yards. The Fiorentina star finally got his first senior goal for Italy.
The biggest ever victory for Italy was 8-0 in the 1948 Olympics against the USA.
Italy 9-1 Armenia
Immobile 8, 33 (I), Zaniolo 9, 64 (I), Barella 29 (I), Jorginho pen 76 (I), Orsolini 78 (I), Babayan 79 (A), Chiesa 81 (I)
Italy: Sirigu (Meret 77); Di Lorenzo, Bonucci (Izzo 69), Romagnoli, Biraghi; Tonali, Jorginho, Barella (Orsolini 46); Zaniolo, Immobile, Chiesa
Armenia:Airapetyan; Hambartsumyan, Haroyan, Calisir, Ishkhanyan (Sarkisov 69), K Hovhannisyan; Babayan, A Grigoryan (Simonyan 60), Artak Edigaryan (Avetisyan 82), Barseghyan; Karapetyan
Ref:Tiago Martins (POR)
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