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Euro 2016 hopes raised as Italy beats Norway

Simone Zaza and Leonardo Bonucci were on target as Italy eased to a 2-0 win in their opening Euro 2016 qualifying Group H fixture away to Norway in Oslo on Tuesday.

Striker Zaza, winning just his second cap, opened the scoring with a deflected shot in the 16th minute before defender Bonucci headed home just after the hour mark as the Azzurri marked Antonio Conte's first competitive game as coach with a victory to launch their bid to reach the European Championship finals in France.

It was a functional performance against a home side who were enthusiastic but lacked quality in the final third, and Italy extended their run without defeat in qualifiers to 41 matches stretching back eight years.

"In nine days we have already done great things," Conte, whose reign began with a 2-0 friendly win against the Netherlands last Thursday, told Rai 1 after the game.

"It will not be easy for anyone to come and play in Norway. And I don't remember [goalkeeper Gianluigi] Buffon getting his gloves dirty, while we created numerous chances."

Conte's starting line-up showed six changes to the team that lost 1-0 to Uruguay at the World Cup in June in Cesare Prandelli's last game at the helm, with Sassuolo striker Zaza taking advantage of the absence due to suspension of Mario Balotelli to line up in attack.

And it was the 23-year-old who silenced the packed crowd at the Ullevaal Stadion with the goal that put Italy ahead and broke his scoring duck for his country.

A Mattia De Sciglio ball from the left flank found Zaza, and with the Norwegian defence failing to produce a challenge, he worked his way into the box before sending in a left-foot shot that took a significant deflection off Havard Nordtveit to beat goalkeeper Orjan Nyland at his near post.

Norway, who are attempting to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since Euro 2000, pushed their visitors back for a spell as they sought to draw level, although the closest they came was when captain Per Ciljan Skjelbred fed Joshua King, but the Blackburn Rovers striker flashed a shot over from a tight angle.

Nyland then beat away a fizzing Emanuele Giaccherini strike as Norway restricted Italy's lead to a single goal going into the interval, but a Conte substitution led to the away side doubling their advantage in the 62nd minute.

The former Juventus coach took off right wing-back Matteo Darmian, sending on Manuel Pasqual in his place, and the Fiorentina player needed less than a minute to whip in a glorious cross from the left that was headed home at the back post by the unmarked Bonucci.

There was no way back for Norway after that, and Italy might even have increased their lead late on, but Zaza rattled the bar after being played through by strike partner Ciro Immobile.

"It has been a dream week for me," said Zaza. "Now my objective is to keep my place in the team. The work of a striker is tiring, but if you want to play in this side you need to run."

It was the perfect start to the qualifying campaign for Italy, and one that sets them up nicely for a double-header at home to Azerbaijan and away to Malta next month before a stiffer test in Croatia in November.

Per-Mathias Hogmo's Norway, meanwhile, will hope to bounce back when they face Malta and Bulgaria next month.

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FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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