Milan: Italy claimed a hard fought 3-1 victory over Armenia during their World Cup Qualifier at the Hrazdan Stadium on Friday to extend their lead at the top of Group B.
The scoreline flattered the Azzurri, who were given a run for their money all the way by the hosts, who nearly pulled off a shock result after a determined and energetic showing.
Andrea Pirlo opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a penalty, but a relentless response from Armenia saw then deservedly draw level through the in-form Henrick Mkhitaryam just before half an hour.
The home side continued to put Italy under large amounts of pressure in the second half, but headers from Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo sent the Azzurri on their way to all three points.
Italy found themselves ahead after only 11 minutes, as Hrayr Mkoyan’s handball in the box was spotted, giving Pirlo the chance to step up to the spot and send Roman Berezovskiy the wrong way.
What threatened to be a walk in the park for the visitors never materialized though, as Armenia were able to fight their way back into the game not long after going behind.
Aras Ozbiliz called Gianluigi Buffon into action with a testing free-kick from range, before a storming run from Artak Yedigaryan ended with a shot that was dragged the wrong side of the post.
Armenia’s endeavour would be rewarded in the 27th minute as they found themselves an equaliser, thanks to a defensive mixup from Italy and a sequence of sheer determination and skill from Mkhitaryan.
The Shakhtar midfielder, who has already racked up 15 goals for his club in the new season, pounced on a weak clearance from Christian Maggio, and raced past the challenge of Andrea Barzagli before slotting past Buffon into the corner.
Armenia continued to push forward following their goal, and Yedigaryan had a chance to add a quick second with a snap shot from the edge of the area that was drilled right into the arms of Buffon.
However, Italy finally regained their poise as the first half wore to a close. Sebastian Giovinco bent a 20-yard free kick just over the bar, before Riccardo Montolivo dragged a shot wide after being picked out in a great position by Pirlo.
The ebb and flow of the first half persisted after the break, and Yedigaryan nearly came up trumps moments after the restart with a goalbound effort was blocked on the line by Domonico Criscito.
Italy were soon back at the other end of the pitch through Giovinco, who weaved his way into an inch of space inside the box, but could only sky his finish harmlessly over the bar.
But Armenia’s spirit endured. A sweeping counter attack saw Mkhitaryam feed Davit Manoyan unmarked at the far post, and only a splendid save from Buffon prevented a goal, and the Italy keeper was on his game moments later to thwart a powerful drive from Yura Movsisyan.
Yet just when it looked like Armenia’s pressure would tell once again, De Rossi stepped up to send the Azzurri back in front, completely against the run of play.
Pirlo was the architect, bending a glorious cross right onto the head of the Roma vice-captain, who could hardly miss from six yards out, crashing his header in off the crossbar.
Once again though, Armenia looked to his back quickly. Mkhitaryam outmuscled Bonucci with ease near the byline before teeing up Yura Movsisyan yards from goal, but a fantastic covering challenge from halted a surefire goal.
With eight minutes to go though, Armenia’s hopes were extinguished once and for all. De Rossi`s free kick was met by Osvaldo, who guided a header expertly into the far corner to give Italy the breathing space they so desperately needed.
A few late forays forward came to nothing for the hosts, who could not come up with a response, but will come away with some pride after a spirited showing.