Italy got away with a poor offensive performance for most of their match in Georgia Saturday after Kakha Kaladze scored two own-goals in one of the more bizarre events in the qualifiers so far.
Two deflections from Kaladze found their way into the Georgia goal, one a long attempt from Angelo Palombo and the other a cross from defender Domenico Criscito.
The result keeps Italy ontop of their group and officially eliminates the Georgians from qualification.
The first 45 minutes were uneventful and even frustrating for the Italians, who's lack of creativity upfront is no doubt still bothering fans of the Azzurri. Coach Marcello Lippi, who will come under fire with every lineup he announces that doesn't include Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano, looked visibly distraught as Vincenzo Iaquinta and Giuseppe Rossi looked harmless.
The best chances of the first half fell to Italy defensemen. One a missed header by Chiellini and the other a superb run into the box by Criscito which ended up in a tackle that could have easily resulted in a penalty for the Azzurri -- but referee Marcin Borski kept his whistle away.
The first half ended in an uninspired 0-0 draw.
With no changes at half-time, the second 45 looked to be much the same until the 65th minute when a long attempt from Palombo struck Kaladze and fooled goalkeeper Goergi Lomaia.
Only 10 minutes later, Criscito made a run down the left side and tried to pick out Iaquinta with a low cross that struck Kaladze and deflected into the bottom corner of the net—a second own-goal for the Georgia captain.
The two goals were enough for Italy to hold onto the win, but questions are going to keep being asked about the lack of potency of the Azzurri attack. Rossi and Iaquinta were ineffective, and it wasn't until the 56th minute when Gaetano D'agostino replaced Marco Marchionni and Fabio Quagliarella replaced Rossi that Italy even looked to consitently threaten the Georgia goal.
Earlier this week Lippi criticized the media, saying that nobody cared about Italy's results and the importance of their upcoming qualification games, and were only focused on his squad selections.
Winning without a single Azzurri player on the score sheet will not silence Lippi's critics, although Quagliarella should have had a goal in the late stages of the game after his diving header struck the post, Lomaia and then the post again before staying out.
Iaquinta had a chance to score on the rebound but his sharp angle attempt hit the outside of the post.
But there were some positives to take out of Italy's match today.
In a lineup that desperately needed some youth, 22-year-old Criscito looked confident at both ends of the pitch, despite accidentally forcing Buffon into a nice save that almost resulted in an own goal for the Italians.
D'agostino made an immediate impact stepping into the midfield, and the 27-year-old is making a case for himself to be included in the squad more frequently.
Lippi also gave some playing time to Inter-Milan's Davide Santon, another young player who will provide some pace and depth to the Azzurri defense.
Lippi favourite but struggling striker Luca Toni was finally left out of the squad after a string of disappointing performances, and Antonio Di Natale was available, back from injury, although he didn't see any time against the Georgians.
But while two thirds of the Azzurri game are starting to look more and more finalized, there are still serious question marks about the offense. In the post-game interview with raitalia, Lippi played down the squads fortunate goals.
But despite his stubborness, it will be hard for Lippi to ignore his teams struggles up front, and he looked frustrated at points in the match.
Will it be enough for the Azzurri to replace the likes of Iaquinta and Gilardino with Pazzini and Cassano? So far it looks doubtful—but the defending World Cup champions won't be taken seriously as contenders until they can place at least one dangerous forward at the front of their formation.
Italy's next game will be Wednesday against Bulgaria, who ran out 4-1 winners against Montenegro today. The Bulgarians are third in the group and still haven't recorded a loss. Significantly stronger then Georgia, the Bulgarians will be a better test for the Azzurri and the younger players who seem to be finally cracking into the lineup.