Italy 2 Montenegro 1
Alberto Aquilani netted a brace as unconvincing Italy edged out Montenegro 2-1 in Ireland’s World Cup Qualifying Group Eight in Lecce tonight.
Roma striker Mirko Vucinic made a goalscoring return to Lecce, where he played for five years — and in the same yellow and red colours as Montenegro — but he left disappointed as UEFA’s newest nation lost their first ever competitive away match.
It means Italy remain unbeaten in the group with 10 points from four games but once again they failed to set pulses racing and it was only a wildly deflected shot that won the match.
Montenegro are still waiting for their first competitive victory and have just two points from three matches, with only Cyprus below them in the standings.
Italy started brightly, but unfortunately for the world champions their first two chances didn’t fall to their danger men, with Andrea Dossena and Gennaro Gattuso both firing wide in the first two minutes.
But the hosts were ahead on eight minutes after a defensive mistake from Milan Jovanovic.
The left-back’s attempted back header from Antonio Di Natale’s crossfield pass wasn’t strong enough, and Simone Pepe ran onto the ball before crossing for Aquilani to bundle home from close range.
That seemed to spark Montenegro into life, though, and Vucinic broke down the right, causing havoc in the Italy box with his cross before Gianluca Zambrotta blocked Elsad Zverotic’s shot on the line.
Moments later, though, the visitors were level as Vucinic beat Giorgio Chiellini and slotted his shot home past Marco Amelia.
Italy wrested back the ascendancy and visiting goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic had to make a double save from Di Natale and then Aquilani.
But the Roma midfielder bagged his second on 28 minutes after sloppy defending from Montenegro, who failed to clear their lines from Dossena’s left-wing cross, allowing Aquilani to fire home via a sizeable deviation off Jovan Tanasaijevic.
Italy started the second half as they did the first, and on 50 minutes a great ball from Aquilani put Alberto Gilardino through but the Fiorentina striker’s shot was blocked by Poleksic.
Montenegro hit straight back, though, after a mistake by Daniele De Rossi gifted his Roma team-mate Vucinic another one on one with Amelia, but this time the Palermo stopper blocked the shot.
And Amelia came to Italy’s rescue again moments later, as he tipped behind a deflected volley from Fiorentina youngster Stevan Jovetic.
Chances were coming thick and fast and on 63 minutes De Rossi almost made amends for his earlier error, but his diving header from a deep Aquilani cross came back off the post.
At the other end, Vucinic hit the side-netting with a free-kick before De Rossi twice saw shots, one a freekick, repelled by Poleksic’s fists.