La Nazionale was held to a frustrating draw despite dictating play at Windsor Park.
With an aggressive opening it was the visitors who took the early initiative as the pressed forward in numbers. As they soaked up the early pressure, Nigel Worthington’s men squandered the real scoring chance as David Healy headed wide from close range on the half hour mark.
After the break there was little joy for the visitors as the home side protected the result with a well organized approach at the back. Italy were forced to settle for a point which moved them top of Group C after three rounds.
Northern Ireland took their tally to three points and seemed more than happy with a draw after opting to protect the result for the best part of the second half.
The Azzurri started brightly immediately pushing forward despite the hostile atmosphere inside Windsor Park.
Cesare Prandelli’s men were imposing a high quality passing game and the home side found it difficult to maintain possession in the opening period. Healy had a rare chance on the counter attack after 25 minutes, but the hitman sprayed wide as he neared the edge of the box.
The first real scoring chance fell to Northern Ireland when Healy headed wide on 30 minutes. Despite the scare Italy immediately increased the tempo and Marco Borriello squandered a one-on-one opportunity as he rifled a shot into the legs of an oncoming Maik Taylor.
Stefano Mauri rounded off a fine attacking move shortly after the re-start and the Lazio man was unlucky not to hit the target after connecting on the volley at the back post onto Mattia Cassani’s cross.
After entering a temporary lull in front of goal, Andrea Pirlo had a fine chance to test the goalkeeper following Antonio Cassano’s square pass. The Milan talisman connected well but failed to find the target as he rifled his effort over the bar.
Just minutes from time Northern Ireland produced a late assault on the Italy box, but the home side were unable to snatch a late winner as the Azzurri closed out the danger with experience.
The result sent Italy top of Group C following Estonia’s victory over Serbia. Worthington’s side could have few complaints about the draw and remain mid-table with three points on the board.
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