With a place in the playoff already secure, Italy beat Albania 1-0 to mark the 800th match in the history of the National Team. It was a valuable win for the Azzurri who will now be a seeded team for the playoffs ahead of the draw on 17th October in Zurich. Antonio Candreva’s goal decided the match in Shkodër as the side’s character was tested against an Albania side who were set up well by Christian Panucci.
Compared to the FYR Macedonia match, Ventura gave Spinazzola, Candreva and Eder playing time from the first minute as Italy returned to playing in a 4-2-4 which changed to a 4-4-2 when not in possession. Candreva and Insigne were asked to support the front partnership of Eder and Immobile from wide positions. The match started at a high tempo as Panucci left his bench to give instructions to his players. Albania wanted to give a good account of themselves and played attacking football with Buffon making two saves in the first ten minutes from Hysaj and Grezda.
The first real chance fell to Ciro Immobile in the 21st minute after an en error from Veseli but Berisha closed him down to save at a tight angle. The match was lively with frequent changes in possession. Sadiku tried from outside the box but Buffon saved before Eder hit the side netting straight after with a long shot. From Memushaj to Ajeti, Berisha to Hysaj, there were a number of figures who play in Italy and one of the most interesting duels was between the Neapolitan pair of Insigne and Hysaj with the Italy no.10 frequently able to get free and look to shoot at goal.
The tempo of blows and counter-blows continued. The first half finished with Immobile firing narrowly wide after a Bonucci ball from the back and Buffon had to save a vicious Roshi effort at the expense of a corner. Italy’s play mostly focused on the right side with the Candreva/Darmian duo before Zappacosta came on after an hour. In the 61st minute, Italy had two good chances to go ahead. Eder fired high after using his pace to get free before Insigne called Berisha into action from just outside the box. At the other end, Grezda, who was one of his team’s top performers, tested Gigi Buffon’s reflexes.
There was a sense that a goal was coming and Italy found it in the 73rd minute thanks to Antonio Candreva’s first goal of the season. The Inter winger took control of a Spinazzola cross at the far post and beat Berisha with a powerful effort. In stoppage time, Immobile missed a good chance to make it 2-0 but Italy held on to make it three wins from three against Albania. The journey to the World Cup will start up again in around a month with the hope that some injured players can return and help the team book their place on the flight to Russia.