Italy claimed a hard fought 3-1 victory over Armenia during their World Cup Qualifier at the Hrazdan Stadium on Friday to extend its 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 and nearly succumbed to a shock result after a determined and energetic showing by the Armenians.
Andrea Pirlo opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a penalty kick, but a relentless response from Armenia saw the hosts deservedly draw level through the in-form Henrick Mkhitaryam just before the 30-minute mark. 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.
What threatened to be a walk in the park for the visitors never materialized, as Armenia was able to fight its way back into the game not long after going behind. Armenia’s endeavor was rewarded in the 27th minute, thanks to a defensive mix-up 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 Gianluigi Buffon into the corner.
Despite Italy beginning to regain control, 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. The Italy keeper was on his game moments later to thwart a powerful drive from former Major League Soccer striker 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 crashed his header in off the crossbar.
Once again though, Armenia looked to his back quickly. Mkhitaryam outmuscled Leonardo Bonucci with ease near the byline before teeing up 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.
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