Cernoia 27, 37
Four goals in the first half propelled Italy to a 5-0 win over Malta in a Euro 2021 qualifier at the Stadio Teofilo Patini of Castel di Sangro.
Italy struggled to break down the Maltese defence early on but once they found the breakthrough on 27 minutes, they strolled to a comfortable victory.
Malta, on their part, still managed to put an organised display despite crossing swords with the 2019 Women’s World Cup quarter-finalists.
Coach Mark Gatt made one change from the team that drew against Israel as Alishia Sultana was preferred to Nicole Sciberras in midfield.
Italy coach Milena Bertolini started with the trademark 4-4-2 with goalkeeper Laura Giuliani between the sticks on her 50th cap.
The hosts made their intentions clear after four minutes when Daniela Sabatino advanced towards goal but Janice Xuereb blocked her effort.
Moments later, Manuela Giugliano whipped in a low cross but Sabatino missed the ball as the Malta defence cleared the danger.
Italy were loading the offensive third in search for an early lead but the Maltese remained compact and organised, trying to keep the Azzurre at bay.
The Italians next chance dropped on the feet of defender Elena Linari but her close-range effort sailed over.
The Maltese girls tried to push forward and Maria Farrugia almost broke through when latching onto a throughball but was outmuscled by Linari.
Then, Cristiana Girelli missed a couple of chances when first she headed a corner wide and then her shot from inside the 18-yard box went wide.
Bertolini’s team continued to press forward with Xuereb coming to her side’s rescue twice, denying Laura Fusetti and Martina Rosucci.
Birkirkara’s shot-stopper was called into action again when she blocked a Giugliano shot.
As time passed, Italy started to find it more difficult to break down the Maltese defence as they relied on long-range shots with Valentina Cernoia testing Xuereb with scant success.
The match changed on 27 minutes when the Italians took the lead with a moment of brilliance. They were awarded a central free-kick and Cernoia’s inswinger flew into the top corner to put the hosts ahead.
The hosts kept up the pressure and on 34 minutes, Girelli’s shot was smothered by Xuereb.
Sabatino came close to double the score but failed to capitalise on a Martina Rosucci cross. Nonetheless, the Azzurre found their second through a Cernoia shot that stunned Xuereb.
On the brink of half-time, Italy added a third when Sabatino slotted home from point-blank range.
The Italians ended the first 45 minutes 4-0 up after Giugliano fired a first-timer past Xuereb.
Onter the restart, coach Gatt made a couple of changes to his team with Nicole Sciberras and Ann-Marie Said coming on.
The match looked all but settled as the Italians easily administered their advantage with scoring chances few and far between.
Italy ended the game with ten players after Giugliano was given marching orders for entering the field without the referee’s permission after being treated for an injury in the sidelines.
Italy continued to dominate proceedings and added a fifth in stoppage time through a Giada Greggi strike.