International Challenge Match
Italy 1-0 Scotland
Sunday 29th May 2016, 8.45pm kick-off (local time)
Ta’Qali Stadium, Malta
Scotland suffered their first defeat in five games against an assured Italy at the Ta’Qali National Stadium in Malta.
A second-half strike from Southampton’s Graziano Pellè - the first goal conceded by a Scottish side since October - ensured that Antonio Conte’s Azzurri maintained their 51-year unbeaten run against Scotland.
Gordon Strachan made nine changes from the Scotland team that triumphed 1-0 over Denmark at Hampden Park in March. Matt Ritchie, the goalscorer that evening, and centre-half Grant Hanley were the only two from that victory, while Hearts defender Callum Paterson was handed an international debut.
The Italians, in preparation for their UEFA EURO 2016 opener against the Republic of Ireland on 22nd June, started the match on the front-foot, creating the best chance of the first half after just seven minutes. Daniele De Rossi’s dangerous free-kick was palmed away by David Marshall, with the Cardiff City ‘keeper forced into a fantastic save from Emanuele Giaccherini from the resulting rebound.
Antonio Conte’s side continued to create opportunities throughout the opening 45 minutes, with De Rossi’s Roma teammate Alessandro Florenzi almost opening the scoring with a shot from 25 yards out. Thankfully for Scotland, his strike went wide. Internazionale’s Eder managed to break the Scottish offside trap after 26 minutes, but the striker - on loan from Sampdoria - blazed his effort over the bar.
With Italy asserting their dominance on the match, especially down their right side through Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, Gordon Strachan altered the Scotland formation to a 5-3-2, with Ikechi Anya dropping into left-back and Queen’s Park Rangers’ midfielder Matty Phillips pressing higher to support Ross McCormack. The change seemed to work, with Scotland going into the half-time interval looking more assured and on level term.
Gordon Strachan made two changes at half-time, with Christophe Berra and Steven Fletcher replacing McCormack and Paterson. Despite the changes for further reassurance, the Italian pressure eventually paid off after 57 minutes. Graziano Pellè, one of only two players in the Italy Starting XI to not ply their trade in Serie A, did well to find space at the edge of the penalty box to fire a shot past Marshall’s left-hand side to give Antonio Conte’s side a deserved lead. It was the Southampton striker’s fifth goal for his country, and his second at the Ta’Qali National Stadium following his winner against Malta in the European Qualifiers in October 2014.
Scotland’s best opportunity to equalise fell to Matt Ritchie with 13 minutes to go. An uncharacteristic mistake in the Italian defence created a gap for substitute Steven Naismith to exploit. The Norwich City attacker then found Ritchie at the edge of the box, but the SFWA’s International Player of the Year’s shot flew just wide of Gianluigi Buffon’s goal. It proved to be the final significant piece of action on the night, with Italy holding on to the victory.
Next up for Scotland is a trip to Metz to face UEFA EURO 2016 hosts France on Saturday.
Scotland | Marshall, Paterson (Berra 46’), Mulgrew, Martin, Hanley, Phillips (Burke 71’), D.Fletcher (C), McArthur (Bryson 83’), McCormack (S.Fletcher 46’), Ritchie, Anya (Naismith 71’)
Subs not used | Fox, Hamilton, McKay, Greer, Kingsley