Ta`qali: Italy striker Graziano Pelle scored on his debut to earn a 1-0 away win over 10-man Malta with the visitors having hit the woodwork four times in their Euro 2016 qualifier on Monday.
The Southampton striker, one of four changes made by Antonio Conte after Friday`s laboured 2-1 home win over Azerbaijan in Group H, struck from close range midway through the first half.
Malta fought bravely, especially after captain Michael Mifsud was dismissed in the first half, while the Italians also finished with 10 men as Leonardo Bonucci was shown a straight red card late on for impeding the advancing Andre Schembri.
Italy have a perfect three wins while Malta, who lost 3-0 at home to Norway on Friday, are still looking for their first point. The Italians are level at the top on nine points with Croatia, who beat bottom side Azerbaijan 6-0 on Monday.
"We played against a team whose intention was not to let us play," said Italy coach Conte. "Having said that, we created a lot of chances and hit the woodwork four times.
"Our next games are against Croatia and Bulgaria, two teams who will be looking for the points. A proper evaluation of our strength will be made after these two qualifiers."
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin was encouraged by his side`s performance against one of Europe`s strongest teams.
"Our objective was to leave the pitch with the fans` applause and we managed to do this," he told reproters. "We have accomplished our mission. For us, this result feels like a win."