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WC Qualification Europe
October 15, 2013
• Stadio San Paolo, Napoli
Referee: M. Oliver
• Attendance: 22000
A. Florenzi 24'
M. Balotelli 76'
Y. Movsisyan 5'
H. Mkhitaryan 70'
Italy will discover their opponents in the World Cup group stage when the draw takes place on December 6. Thanks for joining me, Max Bentley, on this live commentary. Until next time, goodbye!
It's been a brave battle for Armenia but they see their World Cup dreams once again end in despair. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was instrumental in earning the minnows a point today and he earns my vote for man of the match.
FT: Italy 2-2 Armenia. Vardan Minasyan's side claim a well-earned point in Group Q after goals from Yura Movsisyan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan twice put them into the lead. Alessandro Florenzi and Mario Balotelli equalised for the Azzurri as Cesare Prandelli's side head to Brazil in top spot.
90' + 3'
There is time for one last attack however but it comes to nothing as Pizzelli shoots high and wide of the target. With that, the referee blows his final whistle.
90' + 3'
Balotelli has been magnificent since coming on for Italy and he tees up Candreva on the right side of the box, only to watch the Lazio wide man blaze over.
90' + 2'
Yellow Card Robert Arzumanyan
90' + 2'
SO CLOSE FROM BALOTELLI! The Milan striker picks up the ball inside his own half, powering his way past several white shirts before his shot across goal shades agonisingly past the post.
90' + 1'
Armenia show signs that they are happy with a draw for the first time in the game as Minasyan opts to make a late change to run down the clock.
90' + 1'
Insigne has been a constant thorn in the Armenia defence but his shooting has been wayward in this second half and he shoots straight at Berezovski before Rossi fires over a minute later.
Italy half-clear from the resulting corner and Mrktchyan meets the ball with a volley which he blasts over the crossbar. Both sides are fighting frantically for a winner.
ARMENIA GO CLOSE! Mkhitaryan is at the heart of it again as he clips a teasing cross into the middle but it is crucially glanced away by Bonucci when Sarkisov was looking to pounce.
Italy are searching for a winner but another attack breaks down as Rossi is adjudged offside. The Fiorentina striker has struggled to make an impact from the bench.
THE BALL IS IN THE NET BUT IT WON'T COUNT! Insigne collects the ball on the left and he delivers a precise cross into the middle which is headed into the net by Balotelli. However, the referee spots a foul on Arzumanyan and rightfully awards the free kick.
Balotelli is not giving up hope of an Italy winner however and he twists and turns on the edge of the Armenia box before sending an effort narrowly over the bar.
WHAT A MISS FROM HAROYAN! Ghazaryan floats in a wonderful free kick and with the Italian defenders motionless, Haroyan ghosts in to head over the bar from barely a few yards out. That should have been 3-2 to Armenia!
Giuseppe Rossi is not the tallest man on the pitch but he rises highest to meet Candreva's corner from the left. However, the ball deflects off an Armenian player and goes behind for another corner which is eventually headed clear.
GOOD SAVE FROM BEREZOVSKI! Balotelli has offered a much greater attacking threat than Osvaldo and his fizzing free kick stings the fingertips of the veteran goalkeeper who turns the ball behind for a corner.
Assist Andrea Pirlo
Goal Mario Balotelli
BALOTELLI MAKES IT 2-2! The Milan striker scores on his comeback from injury, lifting the ball over the advancing Berezovski after Pirlo's brilliant first-time pass.
Final roll of the dice for Prandelli as he replaces one Fiorentina man with another. Giuseppe Rossi enters the fray with Aquilani the man to make way.
Italy look to respond again but Hovhannisyan reads the danger brilliantly to prevent Abate's pass from reaching Candreva. Can they find another equaliser?
Assist Gevorg Ghazaryan
Goal Henrikh Mkhitaryan
ARMENIA RESTORE THE LEAD!! Marchetti gifts Armenia a corner when he inexplicably fumbles Mrktchyan's shot behind and from it, Mkhitaryan rises highest to thump a header against the underside of the crossbar and just over the line! 2-1!
Pirlo continues to look for that precise pass over the top and his latest attempt is just too far ahead of Balotelli. Just over 20 minutes remaining for either side to find a winner.
However, Minasyan's side do look threatening when they attack and Ozbiliz's goalbound shot is well blocked by Astori. Moments later, the Spartak Moscow midfielder chips a neat pass over the Azzurri defence but there is nobody in the centre to meet Mkhitaryan's low cross.
The Armenians are looking a little rattled at the moment and they just need to stem the Azzurri tide. What a fantastic result it would be for the side ranked 55th in the world if they can hang on.
GOOD CHANCE FOR INSIGNE! Balotelli capitalises on a misplaced pass in the Armenia midfield and he surges towards the right corner of the box before squaring for Insigne who mishits his shot straight into Berezovski. That should have been 2-1!
Second change for the Azzurri as Antonio Candreva replaces the goalscorer Alessandro Florenzi.
Yellow Card Manuel Pasqual
Meanwhile Pasqual picks up a yellow card after a naughty clip of Mkhitaryan's heels.
Balotelli has his first sight of goal when Insigne cuts the ball back for him on the edge of the box. However, the Milan striker's shot lacks conviction and Berezovski makes the save.
Insigne looks the likeliest to score for Italy and he cuts inside from the left again before his shot is well pushed behind for a corner by Berezovski at his near post.
Pirlo steps up to take the resulting free kick but it is not one of his finer efforts as he balloons the ball way over the crossbar.
Yellow Card Varazdat Haroyan
Haroyan is the first man to be cautioned by the referee after his mistimed swipe on Montolivo.
Armenia continue to pose a threat to Marchetti's goal but the Lazio goalkeeper comes out on top as he saves from Mkhitaryan's close range header.
That will be the last action of the match for Osvaldo as he is replaced by Mario Balotelli, who receives a rousing reception from the fans.
Moments after Mkhitaryan nearly plays in Movsisyan, Italy attack down the other end but Osvaldo scuffs his shot wide of the goal.
Insigne has adopted some good positions on the left but this time his delivery is disappointing as his cross goes straight into the gloves of Berezovski.
Yedigaryan attempts to slip a neat pass into the path of Movsisyan but Marchetti races off his line to beat the striker to the ball. Good idea from the visitors.
Osvaldo keeps looking to get in behind the two Armenian centre-backs but the Southampton striker makes his run just too early and is adjudged offside from Pirlo's raking pass.
Aquilani and Osvaldo get the ball rolling for the second half. Can Prandelli's side achieve a seventh qualifying win in ten games?
HT: ITALY 1-1 ARMENIA. Yura Movsisyan gave the minnows a dream start on five minutes after Henrik Mkhitaryan had seized upon Alberto Aquilani's error but the Azzurri restored parity on 24 minutes through Alessandro Florenzi's close-range header. Borussia Dortmund star Mkhitaryan has looked lively for the visitors with Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne a constant menace in the Armenian defence. A very entertaining game at the San Paolo, let's hope for more in the second half.
45' + 1'
Pirlo looks to claim an assist on the stroke of half time but Astori's header from his corner is well gathered by Berezovski.
Italy nearly steal into the lead just before the break when Florenzi combines excellently with Insigne but the Napoli attacker can only shoot straight at Berezovski with his snapshot from the edge of the box.
Moments after Abate nearly gifts Armenia a second with his sloppy passback, Yedigaryan again displays the away side's attacking threat as he slices a shot just wide of Marchetti's goal.
You have to credit Vardan Minasyan for the way his side are determined to get the ball down on the floor and exchange short passes. They've caused the Italians more problems than most would have expected.
Mkhitaryan is enjoying a fine game in the Armenian midfield and he breaks forward again before his goalbound effort is well blocked by Bonucci.
INSIGNE GOES CLOSE AGAIN! Abate produces a fantastic run down the right before his cross at the byline finds Insigne at the back post and the youngster's cushioned volley flashes marginally wide of the target.
SO CLOSE FOR INSIGNE! The Napoli man produces a splendid backheel to deceive Mkoyan before opening up his body and finessing a shot inches past the far post. How did that not go in?!
ARMENIA GO CLOSE! The minnows are refusing to just sit back and defend and they work the ball from left to right excellently before Ozbiliz stings the palms of Marchetti with a fizzing low shot which the Lazio goalkeeper claims at the second attempt.
Italy think they are in on goal when Osvaldo and Montolivo launch a two-on-one attack. However, the referee blows his whistle for a dubious-looking foul.
MKHITARYAN GOES CLOSE! The Borussia Dortmund man shows why he commanded such a high transfer fee in the summer as he surges beyond several blue shirts before dragging a shot wide of the post from an acute angle.
Pirlo is starting to find his radar passing and his perfectly-weighted ball picks out Osvaldo but the striker is denied a second international goal in a week by Haroyan's good covering challenge.
Italy are firmly on top now and the home fans have regained their voice after a sloppy start. Abate whips a dangerous cross into the box but it is well headed clear by Arzumanyan.
Assist Lorenzo Insigne
Goal Alessandro Florenzi
FLORENZI MAKES IT 1-1! Insigne is the architect as he teases with Haroyan before chipping an accurate cross into the box where Florenzi is on hand to head the ball past the helpless Berezovski.
INSIGNE HITS THE POST! The Napoli attacker looks dangerous when cutting inside onto his right foot and he does so again here, striking a skidding drive against the post. The ball deflects off the back of Berezovski but Osvaldo can only divert the rebound straight into the veteran goalkeeper's gloves.
There is bad news for Armenia fans elsewhere however as Denmark have strolled into a 4-0 first-half lead over Malta. It seems their dreams of reaching a first World Cup finals will have to wait a little longer.
Pirlo is looking to pick his passes from deep and he cleverly spots the run of Osvaldo but the Southampton striker is adjudged narrowly offside by the linesman.
It's end-to-end stuff at the San Paolo and Insigne's neat footwork sets up Aquilani on the edge of the box but the Fiorentina midfielder leans back and balloons an effort over the bar.
IT COULD BE 2-0! The Italians are affording Armenia too much space in the midfield and Mrktchyan has time to line up a shot from outside the box which he disappointingly blazes over.
This time it is Insigne who sloppily loses possession but his blushes are spared when Bonucci excellently dispossesses Mkhitaryan. Prandelli will not be too amused by how his side have started here.
Italy are sniffing for an equaliser and Montolivo's pass picks out Osvaldo inside the box. However, the Southampton striker cannot get enough bend on his shot and his left-footed effort goes well wide of the post.
The Italians have finally woken up after that early Armenia goal and Insigne looks to wriggle through before his dribble is well halted by Arzumanyan's challenge.
Italy look to respond immediately but after taking the ball down well on the turn, Osvaldo scuffs his shot straight into the nearest defender.
Assist Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Goal Yura Movsisyan
ARMENIA TAKE THE LEAD! The dream is on for the Armenians as Aquilani loses possession to Mkhitaryan and another error from Astori allows Movsisyan to drive through on goal and he makes no mistake as he smashes the ball across Marchetti and into the bottom corner.
SO CLOSE FOR ARMENIA! Astori nearly gifts the Armenians the perfect start when his miscontrol presents Movsisyan with a chance, but the Cagliari defender gets a crucial touch on the striker's shot to take it wide of the post.
It's a bright start from Armenia and Astori needs to make a brilliant interception to prevent Movsisyan from converting Hayrapetyan's low cross from the left.
Referee Michael Oliver blows his whistle and Armenia get the game underway. Can the Armenians pull off the impossible and defeat Italy in their own back yard to reach the play-offs?
The two teams emerge from the tunnel and what a fantastic atmosphere we have at the Stadio San Paolo as the Italian national anthem booms around the stadium with fans and players singing with gusto! In Buffon's absence, Pirlo will captain the Azzurri.
Gianluigi Buffon is rested just days after breaking Italy's all-time appearance record whilst Mario Balotelli remains sidelined with gastroenteritis.
ARMENIA (4-4-2): Berezovski; Arzumanyan, Hayrapetyan, Mkoyan, Haroyan; Mkrtchyan, Ozbiliz, Ghazaryan, Mkhitaryan; Yedigaryan, Movsisyan.
Armenia kept their faint qualification hopes alive with a last-gasp 2-1 win against Bulgaria and Vardan Minasyan has again opted for his strongest available side.
ITALY (4-1-4-1): Marchetti; Abate, Astori, Bonucci, Pasqual; Pirlo; Florenzi, Aquilani, Montolivo, Insigne; Osvaldo.
Italy drew their previous match against Denmark 2-2 with Pablo Osvaldo and Alberto Aquilani on the scoresheet and with qualification assured, Cesare Prandelli has once again offered a chance to several of the lesser experienced members of his squad.
Vardan Minasyan's side have won four games and lost five in qualifying and they proved strong opponents for Italy in the 3-1 defeat in Yerevan back in October. Henrik Mkhitaryan was the scorer for Armenia that day and the Borussia Dortmund playmaker is likely to be the biggest threat to the Azzurri defence tonight.
Armenia are locked in a four-team battle to secure the elusive play-off spot for the 2014 World Cup but in order to succeed, they will have to overcome group winners Italy who are unbeaten in qualifying. It is an unlikely scenario as it also would require Bulgaria and the Czech Republic to draw, with Denmark also failing to beat bottom-placed Malta but stranger things have happened in football!
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