MILAN (AP) — Luciano Spalletti engineered his first win as Italy coach as the Azzurri beat Ukraine 2-1 in a crucial European Championship qualifier on Tuesday thanks to two goals from Davide Frattesi.
The Inter Milan midfielder scored both goals in a dominant first half for Italy before Andriy Yarmolenko got Ukraine back into the match four minutes before the break.
Italy moved into second place in Group C, above Ukraine on head-to-head record — with the return match scheduled for next month. The Azzurri have played a game less than Ukraine and England, which leads the group by six points.
North Macedonia also moved onto seven points after winning 2-0 at Malta, which has zero points.
The win boosted Italy’s chances of qualifying for Euro 2024 and defending its title — after the misery of failing to reach last year’s World Cup.
Another positive note was the manner of the victory as Spalletti appears to have got Italy playing like his former Napoli team, even at this early stage of his tenure.
Spalletti’s attacking tactics garnered plaudits from all over Europe as he led Napoli to a first Serie A title in more than three decades last season. He left Napoli at the end of the campaign — saying he needed a break — and went on to replace Roberto Mancini, who resigned suddenly last month.
There was little sign of that flair in Italy’s drab 1-1 draw at North Macedonia on Saturday in Spalletti’s debut but it was on display right from kickoff at San Siro on Tuesday.
Italy attacked from the start and had several chances before taking a deserved lead in the 12th minute thanks to a slice of fortune. Ukraine midfielder Georgiy Sudakov slipped under pressure from Mattia Zaccagni, who raced forward before rolling across for Frattesi to rifle a low shot into the back of the net.
Unlike in previous matches, Italy didn’t let its intensity slip although its second goal, in the 29th minute, was even more fortuitous.
Nicolò Zaniolo’s shot ricocheted off Frattesi and Giacomo Raspadori before falling back to Frattesi who managed to squirm it home as he was falling over. However, even he appeared to assume it was offside before it was awarded on video review.
Italy seemed to be coasting toward victory before Ukraine pulled one back shortly before halftime. Azzurri goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarrumma made a great save to deny Artem Dovbyk and the Italy defenders should have cleared the ball but Yarmolenko was quickest onto the rebound to stroke it into an empty net.
Italy could have sealed the win in the second half as Raspadori and Giorgio Scalvini sent attempts just off target while a Manuel Locatelli shot cannoned off the crossbar.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer
Daniella Matar, The Associated Press