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Italy beat Malta to kickstart World Cup campaign
Goals by Mattia Destro and Federico Peluso made the difference as Italy kickstarted their stuttering 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign with an unconvincing 2-0 win over Malta in Modena on Tuesday.
Roma forward Destro claimed his maiden goal for the Azzurri in the fifth minute while Atalanta defender Peluso added another in injury time with a header from a corner.
Coach Cesare Prandelli had reacted to his side's "insufficient" 2-2 draw against Bulgaria on Friday by making five changes and replacing a tricky 3-5-2 tactical formation with a 4-3-1-2.
But Malta, who sit 133 places behind Italy in FIFA's world rankings in 139th, frustrated the beaten Euro 2012 finalists, notably in a second half when the hosts were guilty of squandering a number of chances.
However, the match gave Prandelli the chance to tinker and his decisions were soon vindicated when Destro broke the deadlock.
Destro, who replaced Juventus front man Sebastian Giovinco to team up with Roma teammate Pablo Osvaldo, made the call and ran on to Claudio Marchisio's perfectly-timed ball to beat 'keeper Andrew Hogg from close range.
Bologna playmaker Alessandro Diamanti, another new inclusion, then saw his superbly-taken free-kick from the right tipped over by an alert Hogg.
Osvaldo, who scored both Italy's goals against Bulgaria, was then unlucky to see his header from a corner go wide under pressure from Hogg, while only a fine tackle from Michael Mifsud saved Malta when Osvaldo looked poised to score his third goal for Italy after rounding Alex Muscat.
Malta's only real chance of the half came when Daniel Bogdanovic set up Roderick Briffa, whose well-struck drive was tipped over by Gianluigi Buffon.
Prandelli replaced Alessandro Diamanti with Lorenzo Insigne at the interval and the little Napoli forward was a constant threat for the Maltese defence, whom he teased with mazy runs down the left wing.
Despite his good service to Italy's forwards, however, they failed to convert as Malta dug deep in a bid to hold on.
On the hour mark Osvaldo, too, was left frustrated when, after Insigne had made space on left, he took the ball out of play instead of laying off for the unmarked Roma man.
Despite their domination, Italy toiled at times and gave Malta space which the visitors were ultimately unable to exploit.
At the other end Marchisio spurned a great chance when his long-range effort flew over Hogg's crossbar.
Osvaldo then came off for AC Milan striker Giampaolo Pazzini, who twice spurned chances to put the match beyond reach.
In the final minutes, Prandelli sent on Giovinco for Destro, but it was defender Peluso's header, from an Andrea Pirlo corner, that finally gave Italy the chance to breathe easy.
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