Palermo: Defender Giorgio Chiellini scored three times, including an own goal, as Italy beat Azerbaijan 2-1 in their Euro 2016 Group H qualifier in Palermo on Friday.
It was a struggle at times for Antonio Conte`s team against an Azerbaijan side who defended in numbers and showed little ambition to go forward, but in the end they secured the three points thanks to a player who had managed just four goals in his previous 71 internationals.
Italy should have had an early lead when Ciro Immobile broke free in the sixth minute and found Claudio Marchisio in a promising position, but the midfielder blasted his shot high and wide.
Andrea Ranocchia then missed a great chance with an unchallenged header from an Andrea Pirlo free kick but Chiellini finally put Italy in front a minute before the interval.
Again Pirlo was the creator with a corner, which Azerbaijan keeper Kamran Agayev came for but failed to reach and Chiellini powered in a header.
Simone Zaza, partnering Immobile in attack, went close after the break with an acrobatic effort after fine work from Leonardo Bonucci. Zaza should have scored at the near post shortly after, but his effort from a low Matteo Darmian cross was wide.
The Azzurri really should have had the game in the bag, but were shocked in the 76th minute when Chiellini was unable to deal with a Dimitrij Nazarov corner, the ball crossing the line off the centre back`s leg.
Chiellini though made amends six minutes later by angling home a near-post header from a fine cross by substitute Sebastian Giovinco to ensure Conte’s team secured a second straight win in the group.