Italy overcame Greece’s defensive tactics for a 2-0 win Saturday and qualified for the 2020 European Championship, ensuring the Azzurri will play in the tournament’s opening match in Rome next June.
Brazilian-born midfielder Jorginho converted a penalty after the hour mark after a blatant handball by Andreas Bouchalakis. Then substitute Federico Bernardeschi scored from outside the area with a low, bouncing shot that was deflected.
Roberto Mancini’s squad extended its perfect record in Group J to seven wins in seven matches — a sharp contrast from when Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup following a playoff loss to Sweden nearly two years ago.
“The most important thing is that the fans have rediscovered their enthusiasm for the Azzurri,” Italian soccer federation president Gabriele Gravina said. “We’re definitely on the right track toward recovering what was lost in recent years.”
With three qualifiers remaining, Italy has a full 21 points, nine more than second-place Finland. The top two teams of each group advance.
Greece, which has five points, had already lost hope of qualifying.
There were nearly 60,000 fans at the Stadio Olimpico in anticipation of the qualifying celebration but they were kept quiet for much of the night as Greece defended in large numbers.
The visitors produced the only shot on goal of the first half while Italy was temporarily playing with 10 men due to a knock to left back Danilo D’Ambrosio. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma made a one-handed reflex save on a dangerous effort from Dimitris Limnios.
Things got worse for Italy when winger Federico Chiesa, perhaps the Azzurri’s best performer over the course of qualifying, limped off before the break with an apparent thigh issue. Chiesa was replaced by Bernardeschi.
“We’ll meet teams who sit back and defend. We were too frenetic in the first half,” Mancini said. “We should have patiently moved the ball around to open up spaces. Instead, we attempted long balls and that’s no good. It was a much more relaxed second half. We kept focused and achieved our goal.”
Italy began to threaten more after the break and earned a penalty when Bouchalakis stuck out his arm to block a shot from Lorenzo Insigne that appeared on target.
Jorginho, who holds dual citizenship, sent goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis the wrong way after a nervous buildup to the spot kick as the referee took his time putting the players in order.