Claudio Marchisio put Italy on the board after only nine minutes on Wednesday, but despite the strong start the Azzurri failed to grow into the match and eventually drew with Luxembourg following Maxine Chanot’s late header.
Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had only just made one of his few saves of the game when Marchisio lifted the ball downfield to Mario Balotelli, who held it up masterfully as Marchisio continued his run down downfield before completing the neat bit of interplay with a chipped pass for the midfielder to direct into the goal.
It was a well-worked piece of buildup, and just six minutes later, Balotelli nearly doubled Italy’s advantage when he placed his shot slightly over the crossbar after being set up by the active Antonio Candreva.
Luxembourg, who rarely troubled the opposing defense in Perugia, nearly created something when Mario Mutsch tried to get under an arcing ball midway through the first half, but Giorgio Chiellini was on hand to head the ball away from danger.
Balotelli had his next opportunity on the stroke of the half-hour mark. Marco Verratti, who was the best player on the pitch before his withdrawal in the 54th minute, threaded a delightful pass through to the AC Milan forward, although the final product was once again lacking.
Then Andrea Pirlo came close but faltered—the midfield maestro putting an accurate free-kick on target with two minutes remaining in the opening frame that Luxembourg goalkeeper Anthony Moris had to do well to save.
Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli must have had a few words for his charges at the interval because they came out firing to start the second half.
Less than a minute had ticked off the clock when Verratti’s cultured lob intended for Marchisio didn’t quite connect, and two minutes later the Paris Saint-Germain playmaker again set up Balotelli, who then missed the target completely.
Shortly before the hour-mark Balotelli, following a slalom run through the defense, rang his shot off the crossbar, and as play continued to slow at the Stadio Renato Curi, both managers made several changes to their line-ups.
Prandelli’s substitutions including introducing Antonio Cassano, Alberto Aquilani, Andrea Ranocchia, Lorenzo Insigne, Marco Parolo and Alessio Cerci, but none of them could provide the bit of insurance that Italy would end up needing before the final whistle.
With just five minutes remaining, Mutsch delivered an in-swinging corner-kick that Chanot, having taken advantage of Aquilani’s poor positioning, arrowed past Buffon with an accurate header.
Prandelli tried to search for positives following Wednesday’s 1-1 draw, as per RAI and relayed by Football Italia.
We have tried a few things, but there are a few things that we need to improve on. At times we were quite crowded in the middle and had spaces out wide.
He also spoke to Balotelli's bevy of scoring chances.
Mario had two good opportunities in the first half, and had another chance when Cassano came on. We’ve missed a few chances tonight, and then conceded a goal from a corner.