Armenia vs. Italy: 5 Things We Learned from the Azzurri World Cup Qualifying Win
Italy stuttered to a 3-1 victory in Yerevan against a spirited Armenia side.
Goals from Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo sealed the victory after Henrikh Mkhitaryan had earlier equalised Andrea Pirlo's opener.
It was a fascinating match for Cesare Prandelli, who continues to evolve the Azzurri into the next generation that is capable of winning a World Cup.
Here are five things we learned.
Osvaldo Has Created a Selection Problem for Prandelli
Pablo Osvaldo scored his third international goal against Armenia, rising high to guide a header into the top corner from a Daniele De Rossi cross.
The Argentine-born Roma striker has started his Azzurri career magnificently and will feel he has done enough to be considered Cesare Prandelli's first choice.
Mario Balotelli missed the Armenia match with flu and will still be considered Italy's best striker by many, which provides a selection dilemma for Prandelli.
The former Fiorentina manager likes to play a more creative striker a little deeper, with a bigger, stronger centre-forward such as Osvaldo or Balotelli leading the line. Ultimately, in Prandelli's current system, there isn't room for both of them to start.
It is a nice problem to have, and Prandelli will just be satisfied that there are several options who can provide a potent enough goal threat to transform Italy into a World Cup contender.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan Will Be a Top-Class Player
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was superb against Italy on Friday night, dropping into the space behind Andrea Pirlo to hurt the Azzurri throughout.
The Shakhtar Donetsk player is touted as being potentially Armenia's greatest-ever player, which might not be saying an awful lot, but there is hope that Mkhitaryan can blossom into one of Europe's best attacking talents.
The 23-year-old has nine goals in 34 matches for the Havaqakan and an even better record for the Ukrainian champions. Mkhitaryan has 27 goals in 54 games for the Hirnyky, without even being an out-and-out forward in Mircea Lucescu's system.
Mkhitaryan is certainly a player to keep an eye on in the coming months.
Giovinco's Place Is in Jeopardy
Sebastian Giovinco's place in the starting lineup will probably come under threat due to another lacklustre display on Friday night.
The Juventus star failed to sparkle, and his only contribution was a couple of poorly hit free kicks, before being replaced in the second half by Stephan El Shaarawy.
El Shaarawy is not the only candidate who might be considered capable of replacing Formica Atomica, with an abundance of creative options for Prandelli to choose from.
Lorenzo Insigne is tipped to be a sensational player, while Antonio Cassano might yet be reconsidered and Giuseppe Rossi will believe that he can return to the Nazionale when he fully recovers from his injury.
Ultimately Prandelli will know that Giovinco's upside is bigger than the other candidates. It is up to him to ensure that the former Parma star can translate his club form onto the international stage, which is proving problematic for the moment.
Pirlo Is Still Italy's Best Player
Andrea Pirlo continues to defy logic by churning out magical performances for club and country on a consistent basis despite being 33 years old.
The Juventus midfielder is flourishing in Cesare Prandelli's system, which showcases his sensational range of passing, which was ultimately the difference between Italy and Armenia on Friday evening.
Pirlo clearly seemed to be on his game from the early stages, curling a trademark free kick toward the top left corner that was brilliantly saved by Roman Berezovsky.
Pirlo was then handed the opportunity to open the scoring from the penalty spot, duly obliging and placing the ball powerfully into the left corner.
As the game developed, Armenia began to expose Italy's full-backs, perhaps sensing a draw was on the cards, but it was Pirlo again who made the difference. Italy's No. 21 provided the most brilliant cross that Daniele De Rossi couldn't fail to score the second goal for the Azzurri.
Marco Verratti's form for PSG has led some to say that Prandelli should consider him as an alternative to Pirlo for the Azzurri, but on this basis Pirlo might even make the former Pescara player wait beyond Brazil 2014.
Buffon Might Still Be Considered the Best Goalkeeper in the World
Gianluigi Buffon might be considered a veteran these days, but the Juventus stopper is still capable of producing the most miraculous saves to help keep his side in the game.
Buffon was on hand to deny Armenia on a multitude of occasions, after Italy seemed to fall asleep for large spells.
Italy's No. 1 was involved in the most crucial moment of the match, when Yura Movsisyan ventured down the right and found Edgar Malakyan unmarked at the back post. The Viktoria Plzen player's shot was hit well on the volley, directed low into the left corner, but Buffon stooped brilliantly and deflected the ball around the post to keep the score at 1-1.
Joe Hart and Manuel Neuer are often talked about as the best goalkeepers in the world, but Buffon will surely feel he should be in the conversation. Italy's No. 1 already has 122 caps and will hope to further cement his legacy by maintaining his place until Brazil 2014, which will be his fifth World Cup.