Graziano Pellè enjoyed a dream debut for Italy, scoring the only goal of the game to see off Malta in tonight’s UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier.
Azzurri boss Antonio Conte had hinted he would make changes to the team that edged past Azerbaijan on Friday, and was as good as his word in handing the Saints striker his first-ever senior international appearance.
Pellè went close to opening on 18 minutes at the Ta’ Qali National Stadium, rising to meet Manuel Pasqual’s cross only to see his thumping header come back off the crossbar.
But his debut strike duly arrived midway through the half when, after a corner had not been properly cleared, he was on hand to poke home from close range.
Soon afterwards, Malta were reduced to ten men when captain Michael Mifsud – formerly of Coventry City – was shown a red card, seemingly ending the game as a contest.
Pellè continued to be a danger but his physical style was given short shrift by Romanian referee Ovidiu Haţegan, who often penalised him when tussling with Maltese defenders.
The hosts were given a lifeline on 74 minutes when Azzurri defender Leonardo Bonucci was shown a straight red card, thus leaving both teams with ten players.
Pellè was sacrificed soon afterwards as Conte sent on an extra defender, replacing his debut goalscorer with Angelo Ogbonna on 76 minutes.
And that switch was seemingly enough to see out the game and seal a dream debut for Saints striker Pellè, who will now surely retain his place in the squad for next month’s games against Croatia and Albania.