Italy beat Georgia in Euro qualifiers

World Cup champion Italy beat Georgia 2-0 on Saturday to maintain second place in Group B of European Championship qualifying.

updated: October 15, 2007 07:47 IST
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World Cup champion Italy beat Georgia 2-0 on Saturday to maintain second place in Group B of European Championship qualifying.

Andrea Pirlo scored with a free kick in the 44th minute. Pirlo was helped by an error from Georgia goalkeeper George Lomaia, who moved toward Italy forward Luca Toni and the ball sailed into the center of the goal uncontested.

Defender Fabio Grosso took a pass from Toni and angled in another score for Italy in the 84th. In last year's World Cup final, Grosso's penalty kick sealed a shootout victory over France.

"We weren't brilliant tonight, but the important thing was that we won," said Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who wore the captain's armband in place of the suspended Fabio Cannavaro.

Scotland leads the group with 24 points. Italy is next with 23 points and France is third with 22. Georgia is sixth with seven points.

"It's incredible to see Scotland first with all the points we've earned," Buffon said.

Only the top two teams in the group qualify for next year's tournament in Austria and Switzerland. If Italy wins its remaining qualifiers in Scotland on Nov. 17 and against the Faeroe Islands at home four days later, it will qualify.

The Scotland game will likely determine whether Italy qualifies or not.

"It was important to win tonight, and then think about Scotland," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. "Now we've got a month to prepare for that match."

Italy fielded a three-pronged attack with Fabio Quagliarella and Antonio Di Natale flanking Toni, but the Azzurri struggled to create chances at the start.

Georgia midfielder Jaba Kankava had the game's first shot on goal in the third minute, a long-distance attempt that Buffon calmly stopped.

Georgia's defenders anticipated Italy to the ball and the Azzurri didn't threaten until Toni's header off a cross from Antonio Di Natale hit the post in the 27th.

"We had trouble because they were waiting for us in one-on-one situations and it wasn't easy to get by them," Grosso said.

In the 31st, Pirlo sent a free kick to Toni that the 1.93-meter (6-foot-5) forward headed high.

Italy earned a series of corners that Pirlo kicked low but the AC Milan midfielder earned his seventh international goal when Lomaia thought he was directing the ball to Toni again on the Azzurri's next free kick.

Pirlo placed another free kick on goal in first-half added time and Lomaia tipped the ball over the crossbar.

Georgia was without its captain, Kakha Kaladze, and coach Klaus Toppmoeller fielded a young team featuring two 16-year-olds _ forward Levan Mjedlidze, who plays for the youth squad of Serie A team Empoli, and Schalke midfielder Levan Kenia.

Di Natale had a good look at Georgia's goal in the 65th but sent a weak shot right at Lomaia from beyond the area. Pirlo finally put a corner up high in the 74th, but Toni met the ball with a weak header that was cleared.

"We certainly played better in the first half, with more determination," Donadoni said. "In the second half, we controlled the situation."

Italy forward Vincenzo Iaquinta has the flu and returned home Saturday morning.

Donadoni is expected to replace as many as 10 players for Wednesday's friendly with South Africa.