Goals by forward Mateo Retegui and midfielder Matteo Pessina steered Italy to a 2-0 win over Malta in their Euro 2024 qualification Group C clash at Sunday.
Defending champions Italy were looking to get back on track after starting the campaign with a 2-1 loss against England on Thursday.
“These are games where you have everything to lose and they tend to be ugly. We did some things well, others less so, the important thing was to win,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini told RAI Sport.
“We broke the deadlock early and could’ve scored more, but these matches can be strange.”
The hosts started the match very defensively, forcing Italy to build up play slowly from the midfield and look for openings.
Malta could even have taken an early lead when Alexander Satariano managed to send a half-volley towards goal from inside the area, but goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma got his fingertips on the attempt and pushed the ball over the bar.
However, Italy opened the scoring in the 15th minute when Retegui broke free from his marker to power in a header from a corner with Pessina doubling the lead after 27 minutes when he tapped Emerson’s cross in from a short distance.
Vincenzo Grifo was close to make it three for the visitors shortly after but Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello skilfully blocked his attempt.
Italy came close to increasing their lead in the second half when Gianluca Scamacca produced an overhead kick from a corner but Bonello came to the rescue again with a one-handed reaction save.
“We could’ve done everything better, that’s for sure. When you are 2-0 up, you have the chance to play with less pressure and we should’ve made more of that,” Mancini said.
England comfortably beat Ukraine 2-0 to put Gareth Southgate’s team in control of Group C earlier on Sunday.