MODENA, Italy (AP) -European Championship runner-up Italy limped to an unconvincing 2-0 win over minnow Malta in its second World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday.
Mattia Destro scored his first international goal in the fifth minute but the bright start was to prove a false dawn for Italy as it struggled to carve out more decent goalscoring opportunities. Federico Peluso sealed the result in injury time.
Malta posed little threat and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was reduced to a spectator's role for much of the match - which was being held in Modena as a show of support to the region following the earthquakes earlier this year.
However, it will be the lack of attacking thrust which will again trouble Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli.
And Italy will face more criticism after opening its European Group B campaign with a disappointing 2-2 draw with Bulgaria on Friday.
It had hoped to bury that result with a big win over a Malta side listed a lowly 139th in the world rankings. Prandelli, though, says he is satisfied after using young, inexperienced players in both games.
"They are very difficult games because of many reasons," Prandelli said. "September is historically a difficult month for us, the guys aren't at their top form. And moreover we're trying to find the game that we had but with different players.
"But it's OK, we have four points. I'm happy because I got to look at new players. Yes, we suffered in this game, and didn't play a very nice game, but these games are useful to look at these players and see what they are like and have an idea of what stage they will be at in two years' time. Overall, I'm satisified."
There were positives to take from the night. Apart from Destro and Peluso getting off the mark internationally, Lorenzo Insigne enjoyed an impressive debut.
"It was a really amazing emotion to make my senior international debut," the Napoli striker said. "I'm really happy for me and for the result.
"Before I came on Prandelli told me to play as I normally do, making the movements I did last year. They were very tight and left us with little space. It was really nice to see people applauding me, I'm happy with my performance."
Italy got off to the perfect start when Claudio Marchisio lobbed a delightful ball over the defense for Destro to run onto and slot past Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg.
It came close to doubling its lead in the 11th minute when Mattia Cassani was tripped just outside the right side of the area. Alessandro Diamanti whipped in a free kick but Hogg did well to tip it over the bar.
Pablo Osvaldo scored his first international goals against Bulgaria and he almost added to his tally following a terrific run into the area. The striker looked to have a perfectly clear goalscoring opportunity but the ball was bundled clear in the nick of time by the Malta defense.
Osvaldo tried to set up Destro shortly after the half-hour mark, but his pass on the edge of the area was just too short and it was intercepted and cleared.
Moments later Malta had its best chance of the match as Gareth Sciberras unleashed a powerful snap shot but Buffon reacted well to fingertip it over.
Italy should have doubled its lead nine minutes after the break when Antonio Nocerino attempted to thread a ball through, but Hogg was alert to the danger and palmed it away from the onrushing Osvaldo.
Nocerino was involved again shortly after when he tried a short pass across goal to Destro but Hogg and defender Alexander Muscat combined to scramble it clear. The brave Malta goalkeeper was injured in the process and had to receive treatment on the pitch.
It did not impede him moments later. Halftime substitute Lorenzo Insigne weaved his way past two Malta defenders just inside the area but could not get past Hogg, who snatched the ball off the Italian's feet as he was about to let fly.
Italy was almost given a helping hand by Malta. Destro put the ball into the six yard area but there was no Azzurri player on hand. However, Andrei Agius didn't seem aware he was under no pressure and his hasty clearance scraped the outside of the right upright.
Substitute Giampaolo Pazzini almost scored in the 75th, but he side-footed his effort past the left hand post from close range.
He went closer three minutes from fulltime with a powerful header which flew inches wide.
Italy finally had its second goal when, from Andrea Pirlo's corner, Peluso's glancing header ricocheted off Hogg and one of his defenders before going in.