YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) -Italy veteran Andrea Pirlo scored one goal and created another as the Azzurri labored to a 3-1 win over Armenia in World Cup qualifying Friday.
Pirlo fired Italy ahead in the 11th minute from the penalty spot following Hrayr Mkoyan's handball. But Armenia leveled in the 28th through Shakhtar Donetsk's impressive Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Daniele De Rossi headed Italy back in front shortly after the hour mark before Pablo Osvaldo sealed the result with his third goal in as many qualifying matches.
"We suffered a bit with a few of their counterattacks and we had a couple of individual problems, but I'm happy," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "I won't stop saying it, this is a particularly tricky group, we had a great game and played with a lot of character."
It is Italy's 33rd match without defeat in World Cup and European Championship qualifying matches.
Italy was without Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, who - although initially included in the starting lineup Thursday - had not recovered from flu in time. He was replaced by Juventus forward Sebastian Giovinco.
Italy started brightly and could have been ahead in the fifth minute but Armenia goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky did brilliantly at full stretch to keep out Pirlo's free kick, which seemed destined for the top right corner.
Riccardo Montolivo did well minutes later to carve out some space and cross in towards Claudio Marchisio but the ball was marginally too far away for the Juventus midfielder.
Italy was ahead shortly afterwards when it was awarded a penalty.
Domenico Criscito - back in the squad for the first time since being questioned over a match-fixing scandal - raced down the left flank before putting in a cross that Montolivo sidefooted straight at the goalkeeper. The rebound fell back to Montolivo, whose effort was blocked by Hrayr Mkoyan's arm.
Pirlo stepped up and sent Berezovsky the wrong way, firing low into the bottom left corner.
Armenia leveled almost immediately but Gianluigi Buffon did well to tip Aras Ozbiliz's free kick over the bar.
It was back on level terms when Mkhitaryan collected the ball near the halfway line, evaded Andrea Barzagli and raced away from Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci before firing into the bottom right corner.
The in-form Mkhitaryan is currently the leading scorer in the Ukrainian league, with 14 goals in 11 matches.
The Italy players were furious because they wanted the game to have been stopped just before Mkhitaryan got the ball because of a clash of heads between Armenia midfielder Davit Manoyan and Italy defender Christian Maggio.
"When two players clash heads, you have to stop the game. The referee didn't do that and that's why I protested," Prandelli said.
Armenia could have taken the lead seconds after halftime but Artur Edigaryan's fierce effort flew over the bar after a lucky deflection from Criscito.
It went even closer moments later when Giovinco turned in the area to carve out some space for himself but fired over.
Italy could have had a penalty when Karlen Mkrtchyan appeared to handle in the area but the referee waved play on.
Armenia almost took the lead when Mkhitaryan raced down the right flank and crossed towards an unmarked Yura Movsisyan whose volley was brilliantly saved by Buffon.
Italy restored its advantage shortly afterwards when De Rossi headed in Pirlo's cross off the underside of the crossbar.
Armenia battled hard for the equalizer and Movsisyan would have had an almost certain goal after a mistake by Bonucci but for a sliding, last-ditch tackle by Maggio.
Italy sealed the result when Osvaldo headed in De Rossi's free kick.