Slovenia 0 Italy 1
Thiago Motta’s second-half strike handed Italy a narrow win over Slovenia in Ljubljana in their Euro 2012 qualifier.
The Brazilian-born midfielder, who made his debut with the Azzurri in last month’s friendly against Germany, struck in the 73rd minute to hand the Italians their first-ever win on Slovenian soil.
The result has lifted Italy six points clear of second-place Slovenia at the top of Group C after five games, bringing them significantly closer towards qualifying.
The Italians were without Mario Balotelli and Daniele De Rossi, with both players dropped by coach Cesare Prandelli for breaching the team’s code of conduct while competing for their respective clubs.
Prandelli, whose side remain unbeaten in qualifying, fielded Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri behind attacking pair Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini.
The visitors dominated possession and had the first chance in the seventh minute.
Riccardo Montolivo’s shot from outside the area was saved by Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Italy continued to press forward and were unlucky not to take the lead midway through the first half.
Pazzini struck the far post with a right-footed strike from inside the area.
At the other end, Robert Koren warmed the hands of Gianluigi Buffon with a stinging drive from 30 yards.
Shortly after, Motta’s header from Cassano’s cross was off target.
The Azzurri twice had the chance to break the deadlock before half-time.
In the 35th minute, Cassano’s strike from the heart of the area towards the far post was kept out by Handanovic.
Cassano then fed Pazzini inside the area and the Inter forward struck wide from a good position.
Italy picked up where they left off after the re-start and almost scored in the 53rd minute but Handanovic made two great saves to deny Cassano and Alberto Aquilani.
Slovenia replied with Valter Birsa serving substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic inside the area but his right-footed strike was met by a fine save from Buffon.
Just when Slovenia were looking more dangerous, Italy scored.
Motta played a one-two with Federico Balzaretti inside Slovenia’s area before firing a left-footed strike from 12 yards past Handanovic.
The home side surged forward in search of the equaliser.
Italy defended deeply and Buffon did well to come off his line to clear Andraz Kirm’s dangerous cross towards the far post as the Azzurri held on for victory.