Italy survive mid-game freeze

Ciro Immobile heading in the winning goal in stoppage time past Macedonia goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov to save Italy's blushes in the World Cup qualifier in Skopje. He had scored the equaliser after the Balkan minnows took a shock 2-1 lead.
Ciro Immobile heading in the winning goal in stoppage time past Macedonia goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov to save Italy's blushes in the World Cup qualifier in Skopje. He had scored the equaliser after the Balkan minnows took a shock 2-1 lead.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Sudden slump has the Azzurri reeling but late goals ensure 3-2 win over tiny Macedonia

SKOPJE • Italy coach Giampiero Ventura blamed inexperience for a second-half slump which left his team on the brink of a shock defeat by rank outsiders Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday.

Macedonia, trailing 0-1 at half- time, scored two goals in three minutes and had two clear chances to score a third shortly afterwards as Italy dramatically fell apart.

The four-time world champions looked lost and could barely string two passes together until two goals from Ciro Immobile rescued the Italians and gave them a 3-2 win.

"For 10 minutes, we stopped being a team, but then we were once again the Italy that everyone knows and we got this result," said Ventura, who replaced Antonio Conte as coach after Euro 2016.

"We made mistakes born out of inexperience, but that is something you have to accept with a group of young players."

Of the starting XI, six were under the age of 25.

"The fightback showed great character," said Ventura. "We had 10-15 minutes of 'blackout' in which we were not a team, but we got back together and went out to find this victory.

"This is yet more proof that, at the end of the day, we can achieve something very good."

The game seemed to change when Italy moved to a 4-3-3 formation, introducing Nicola Sansone and Marco Parolo.

"We changed our system towards the end and pegged Macedonia back into their own half. We need to work," said Ventura.

Parolo said Italy must "take lessons" from their hard-fought win.

"They scored two goals in quick succession and it all became more complicated," he told Rai Sport. "We found the strength to fight back again and take these fundamental points home.

"The lesson we take from this is that we must be always alert, play at 100 per cent of our abilities. For those 10 to 15 minutes we seemed to lose our heads and we paid for it."

The win puts Italy level on seven points with Group G leaders Spain, whom they trail on goal difference after three games.

Ventura, a 68-year-old who is widely respected in Italy but has never won a major title in a long, much-travelled coaching career, said he still had confidence in his players.

"It's unlikely that we will keep making these mistakes, all we can do is improve," he said.

"We have to be ourselves from now on. But with this group of lads, we have the possibility to do well."

Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon described the game as "very strange".

"We took the lead but we gave away too many scoring chances, and that's a mistake we don't usually make," he said.

"The good thing was the result, we have been rewarded for playing with heart and soul although it was maybe more than we deserved.

"The coach tries to help us by passing on his concepts and his way of interpreting football.

"At times we make mistakes, so that some games that seem easy on paper become complicated."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'Italy survive mid-game freeze'. Print Edition | Subscribe