Pelle stars on debut for Italy in dire Malta win

Southampton striker Graziano Pelle scored a first-half winner on his debut as Italy scraped a 1-0 victory away to 10-man Malta in their Euro 2016 qualifier on Monday.

Pelle stars on debut for Italy in dire Malta win
Italy's Manuel Pasqual (right) congratulates Graziano Pelle (C) after he scored the opening goal during the Euro 2016 qualifying match between Malta and Italy. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli/AFP

Italy dominated from the outset at the Ta'Qal stadium but ultimately failed to turn chances into goals as Malta, who saw Michael Mifsud sent off before the half hour, kept bodies in defence for long periods and sought to break on the counter-attack.

Pelle's performances in the English Premier League this season had caught the eye of Italy coach Antonio Conte, who lined the big striker up alongside Ciro Immobile in the hope his powerful physique would provide extra options up front.

Pelle was a constant threat in the Maltese box and saw a first-half header smack off the crossbar from one of several inviting crosses by Fiorentina midfielder Manuel Pasquale.

But despite his winner and the precious three points that mean only Italy and leaders Croatia are unbeaten in Group G, Pelle indicated there was little cause for celebration in the Azzurri camp.

"I'm happy I scored and we got the three points but we have to do better," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"I'm used to playing in England where you play to score goals."

Although Conte was happy with a third win after defeating Norway (2-0) and Azerbaijan (2-1), he expects Italy to raise their game for Croatia in Milan next month.

"The big game against Croatia will tell us just how good we are after these first two months," Conte said.

"We need to get down to work if we're to succeed."

As early as the first minute, Immobile flashed a shot just wide of Andrew Hogg's upright after latching onto Antonio Candreva's cross.

Italy were frustrated for the opening quarter hour but the hosts managed to give Gianluigi Buffon a scare when Giorgio Chiellini, who scored all three goals including an own goal in a 2-1 win over Azerbaijan on Friday, gave away a free kick on the right.

The ball was whipped into the area and as Mifsud fell under a challenge from Leonardo Bonucci it rolled out to Clayton Failla, whose deflected
daisycutter went just wide of Buffon's far post.

Italy were soon back in command, however, and Pelle's powerful header from Pasquale's delivery came back off the crossbar, with Chiellini's header from the resulting corner also hitting the woodwork.

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Italy’s Renzi wants ex-ECB boss Draghi to become prime minister: report

Ex-PM Matteo Renzi would like to see former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi become prime minister of Italy, a party source told Reuters on Sunday.

Italy's Renzi wants ex-ECB boss Draghi to become prime minister: report
Matteo Renzi. Image: Andreas Solaro/ POOL / AFP

“I would say that is one of our proposals,” confirmed the source, who declined to be named.

The Italian government collapsed last week when PM Giuseppe Conte resigned. The former coalition allies are currently trying to come to an agreement and sort out their differences.

The centre-left government had been in turmoil ever since former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party earlier this month, a move that forced Conte to step down this week.

During the past year, Renzi frequently criticised Conte’s management of the pandemic and economic crisis.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper also reported on Sunday that President Sergio Mattarella was considering Draghi for the prime ministerial role. However, Mattarella’s office promptly denied this, saying there had been no contact between them.

So far, there has been no comment from Draghi, who hasn't been seen much in the public eye since 2019.

Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, gave ruling parties more time on Friday to form a new government, after the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. 

Coalition parties Italia Viva, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement must come to an agreement to allow the government to heal. 

Renzi, a former prime minister himself, has pubilcly stated that he does not want to talk about who should lead the next government at this stage, reasoning that the parties need to agree on a way forward first.

“Any effort today to fuel a discussion about Draghi is offensive to Draghi and above all to the president of the republic,” Renzi said in an interview published on Sunday with Corriere della Sera.

A senior Italia Viva lawmaker also told Reuters that “If the president gives a mandate to Draghi, we would certainly support this”. 

Renzi, whose party is not even registering three percent support in opinion polls, quit the coalition over Conte’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his plans for spending more than 200 billion euros from a European Union fund to help Italy’s damaged economy.

READ ALSO: Why do Italy's governments collapse so often?