Roberto Mancini claimed it would have been easier for Italy to beat Armenia had they not played the entire second half of their Euro 2020 qualifier against 10 men.
Italy struggled to break down stubborn opposition in Yerevan and were reliant on two goals in the final 15 minutes for a 3-1 victory which maintains their 100 per cent record at the top of Group J.
Striker Alexander Karapetian fired Armenia into a surprise early lead but, after Andrea Belotti’s equaliser, was sent off for a second yellow card in first-half stoppage time to leave his team a man short for 45 minutes.
A first international goal for substitute Lorenzo Pellegrini 13 minutes from time, followed by an own goal from Armenia goalkeeper Aram Hayrapetyan, eventually spared Italy’s blushes, to the relief of head coach Mancini.
“I said that it would be a difficult game. We didn’t start well, then we recovered and we could have gone in ahead at the break,” said Mancini, according to the Italian Football Association’s website.
“Their sending off made it tough for us in the end because it meant they defended with 10 men for the entire second half and closed up any space.
“Things would have been better if they had remained as 11.”
Karapetian was shown an initial yellow card for a petulant clash with Marco Verratti before picking up a second booking after being adjudged to have caught Leonardo Bonucci in the face with an arm.
Victory for the four-time world champions moves them on to 15 points from five fixtures, while Armenia remain on six and have an uphill task to qualify.
Former Manchester City manager Mancini felt the opposition’s superior fitness levels were a factor in his side labouring to success.
“We’re back together after four months, the boys have only played two games in the league and it’s normal to have encountered difficulties,” said Mancini.
“A lot of the Armenia players are in the middle of their seasons, physically they were slightly ahead of us.”
Torino striker Belotti was particularly wasteful in front of goal and also had two efforts ruled out for offside, one incorrectly, while Federico Bernardeschi struck the crossbar.
Belotti, who broke a national team drought dating back to May 2018, has been in good form for his club this term, claiming six goals in Europa League qualifying and one in Serie A.
The 25-year-old admitted he should have been more potent on Thursday evening and is determined to establish himself as Mancini’s first-choice centre forward.
“We have to hold our hands up and say that we missed too many chances, myself included,” said Belotti.
“There were two moments where I missed the target or didn’t react quickly enough.
“When I’m given the chance to take to the pitch I have to be ready. Scoring goals is simply something that us strikers have inside us, we just have to stay focused and express our quality on the pitch.
“I’m happy with my goal but the team deserves the credit and for that I’d like to thank all of my team-mates.
“Now I don’t want to stop and I have to do everything that the coach asks of me.”