Chiellini scores all three in narrow Italy win over Azerbaijan


Giorgio Chiellini scored a hat-trick of sorts as Italy made it two wins out of two in Euro 2016 qualifying Group H with a narrow victory over Azerbaijan. However, the Azzurri did it the hard way, missing a spate of chances before Chiellini's header earned them the lead late in the first half. The Juventus defender then put the ball through his own net to give the visitors an unexpected leveller, but made amends four minutes from time with another header to complete his 'treble' and a 2-1 victory. Much of the build-up had centred on the absence of striker Mario Balotelli, with Italy coach Antonio Conte putting his decision down to allowing the striker time to settle at his new club Liverpool. Fellow frontman Dani Osvaldo and midfielder Thiago Motta were then late withdrawals due to thigh injuries, adding to the scrutiny the recently-appointed coach found himself under heading into the match. With Italy looking to build on their opening win over Norway, Conte would not have been encouraged by what he saw for much of the first half at the Renzo Barbera in Palermo. The Azzurri dominated from the whistle but Claudio Marchisio's sixth-minute effort seemed to set the tone for the night, with the Juventus midfielder blasting over the bar from the centre of the area. Alessandro Florenzi fired wide of the right post minutes later before Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Agayev saw his first action of the night by palming away a dangerous right-footed strike from Leonardo Bonucci. Ciro Immobile then wasted yet another opening after 22 minutes, taking aim from 25 yards but driving the ball past the left upright. Conte cut an even more frustrated figure on the sidelines 10 minutes before the interval when Andrea Pirlo's free-kick set Andrea Ranocchia up for the perfect opportunity to break the deadlock, only for the Inter Milan defender to head over the bar from an unmarked position. This all served to give Azerbaijan a glimmer of hope, and they almost seized it four minutes later with Rufat Dadasov's 25-yard strike just clearing the crossbar. That seemed to be the wake-up call the Azzurri needed, and two minutes before the interval Chiellini found the target with a close-range header after the visiting defence failed to react to Pirlo's inswinging corner. Hopes that would open the floodgates in the second half quickly disappeared, with little of note until Simone Zaza unleashed a bullet on the hour and defender Elnur Allahverdiev threw himself in the way of the shot. Azerbaijan caused another scare moments later, with Gianluigi Buffon making his first contribution to the match in stopping Javid Huseynov's strike from the edge of the area. But this time the home side failed to heed the warning and the crowd were silenced after 77 minutes when a slice of luck gave Azerbaijan an equaliser. The visitors' charge forward resulted in a neat cross from the left from Dimitrij Nazarov. Chiellini was alert to the danger but his attempts to clear it simply resulted in the defender slicing into his own net. Conte was furious but his players restored calm and their lead within four minutes. Sebastian Giovinco was the provider as Chiellini made amends for his earlier blunder with another powerful header for his third goal of the night. Giovinco then had the chance to add a little gloss to the scoreline in stoppage time but was denied a goal by the crossbar.