Italy’s youth movement shines in 2-0 win over Finland
UDINE, Italy (AP) — Italy came away with hope for the future after Nicolo Barella and Moise Kean scored their first international goals in a 2-0 win over Finland to open European Championship qualifying on Saturday.
It marked the first time the Azzurri scored more than one goal in a competitive match in nearly two years.
Italy moved atop Group J, level on three points with Greece, which won at Liechtenstein 2-0.
Bosnia and Herzegovina beat Armenia 2-1 and also has three points.
Under pressure to produce a revival after missing last year’s World Cup, Italy didn’t waste time. Barella, a 22-year-old midfielder with Cagliari, scored seven minutes in with a long, deflected shot from a rebound following a free kick from Marco Verratti.
Kean, aged 19, then took advantage of an excellent throughball from Ciro Immobile to find the target from the center of the area in the 74th. He became the second youngest scorer for Italy after Bruno Nicole in 1958.
Still, it wasn’t all straightforward for the hosts.
Finland forward Teemu Pukki wasted a great chance to equalize, shooting wide after sprinting past Leonardo Bonucci to redirect a cross in the 65th.
But the youth movement was the theme from the beginning, when Kean became the youngest striker to start for Italy in more than a century, in place of injured winger Federico Chiesa.
“He’s skillful,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said of Kean. “But he still has a lot of work to do. He’s got a huge margin for improvement.”
Also earning his first international start was Valencia defender Cristiano Piccini at right back, playing for the injured Alessandro Florenzi. And midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo, also 19, made his Italy debut as a second-half substitute.
“It’s not difficult to see talent in Kean and Zaniolo, so it’s not a risk to pick them,” Mancini said.
There were also contributions from veterans, with 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella having a chance denied with a one-handed save from goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky after coming on in the second half.
Quagliarella, the Sampdoria striker who leads Serie A with 21 goals, was making his first Italy appearance in 8 1/2 years.
In Liechtenstein, Kostas Fortounis and Anastasios Donis scored for Greece.
In Sarajevo, Rade Krunic and Deni Milosevic got the goals for Bosnia as striker Edin Dzeko celebrated his 100th appearance.
On Tuesday, Italy hosts Liechtenstein in Parma, Greece plays at Bosnia and Finland visits Armenia.