In a low-scoring round of fixtures in Italy’s Group H, the Azzurri earned a valuable three points with yesterday evening’s important win over minnows Malta in Florence.
In a game dominated by Antonio Conte’s side, which featured Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, the Italians prevailed thanks to Graziano Pellè’s 69th minute header. Simone Zaza and Andrea Barzagli were unused substitutes.
Juve's representatives Buffon, Bonucci and Chiellini all came through unscathed and were rarely threated as the Azzurri kept Malta at arm's length for the majority of the tie.
Pellè's goal put the Euro 2012 finalists level on points with closest rivals Croatia, who were held to a 0-0 draw away in Azerbaijan. Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic played the full 90 minutes but despite registering 19 shots on the home goal, the visitors could not find the breakthrough.
Next up for Mandzukic’s Croatia is a visit to Oslo for Sunday’s decisive meeting with Norway, who currently sit just two points behind the joint leaders on 13 points after last night’s win over Bulgaria. Buffon and co. will hope to follow suit against the same opposition in Palermo at the weekend.
Elsewhere, Italy’s U19 squad also played out a stalemate in Cava de Terreni as they faced Holland; Bianconeri goalkeeper Emil Audero remained on the bench. Ireland will be the next visitors to Campania on Monday night.
Friday night sees four Juve's international stars in action. Kicking off the evening, Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra will be in Lisbon as France take on Portugal at the Estádio José Alvalade.
Overnight, Roberto Pereyra's Argentina face Bolivia in Houston (USA), before Martin Caceres swaps Bianconeri for Celeste as Uruguay meet Panama.