Italy's Federico Chiesa and Gianluigi Donnarumma celebrate after the match REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini
(Reuters) - Federico Chiesa scored twice as Italy secured a 5-2 home victory against North Macedonia in their Euro 2024 qualifying clash on Friday, giving them an edge ahead of a deciding encounter with Ukraine on Monday for a place at the finals.
The Group C victory means Italy only need a draw against Ukraine to secure second place in the group along with already-qualified England and reach next year’s finals in Germany.
Italy have encountered difficulties in their history with North Macedonia, suffering a 1-0 loss at home in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers and later playing a 1-1 Euro qualifying draw in manager Luciano Spalletti's debut as Azzurri coach in September.
"With our quality, sooner or later we do score goals, but there was this danger of counter-attacks that we were never troubled by in the first half but were a couple of times after the break," Spalletti told RAI Sport.
Giacomo Raspadori had a goal disallowed for offside, followed by Chiesa's attempt from a tight angle that was saved by North Macedonia's Stole Dimitrievski.
Italy broke the deadlock after 17 minutes when an unmarked Matteo Darmian headed in a corner at the back post.
After 40 minutes, Italy had a chance to extend their advantage from the penalty spot after Nikola Serafimov's handball but Jorginho's attempt was saved by Dimitrievski.
Chiesa did double the lead four minutes before the break though with a curling shot from the edge of the box.
In first-half stoppage time Italy got a third when Chiesa received a through ball inside the box, eluded a defender and scored with a deflected shot that looped into the top corner.
North Macedonia got back into the match after 52 minutes when Jani Atanasov nodded in a close-range cross before scoring his second with a deflected long-range shot in the 74th.
"The second goal was a big deflection, it was casual, so that changes the psychological aspects of the match," Spalletti said.
"At that point, I think we saw the best of Italy in terms of character and quality as we showed strength to keep going and secure the victory with another two goals."
Italy's Raspadori dashed the visitors' hopes nine minutes from time with a goal from a tricky angle inside the box, while Stephan El Shaarawy added Italy's fifth in stoppage time.
Spalletti was asked if he planned to make changes for the Ukraine game in Leverkusen, Germany.
"As for the next match, we have to see how everyone is doing, but I do not predict that many changes," he said.