Surprise, surprise: Italy win in Malta. Despite some spirited resistance, the Azzurri ended up with a 2-0 victory at Ta'Qali National Stadium, with both goals coming through AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli.
Malta started strongly, even coming close to scoring through Michael Mifsud, but their bright spell lasted all of seven minutes before Luke Dimech brought Stephan El Shaarawy in the box (which strikes me as a rather silly thing to do when you're trying to hold out for a point). The referee pointed to the spot, Balotelli slotted home, and the game was pretty much over.
Or... was it? Turns out that Malta weren't going to roll over that easily. A spell of home pressure ended up with Gianluigi Buffon bringing down Andre Schembri in the box, conceding a penalty of his own and earning a yellow card. Happily for the visitors, the goalkeeper made up for his rather dire challenge, keeping out Mifsud's effort and retaining the clean sheet. He had the crossbar to thank seconds later after Mifsud beat two defenders and then sent a long-range rocket off the woodwork.
And then Mario Balotelli happened. Leonardo Bonucci chipped over the top to find Mattia De Sciglio, and his cutback was smacked just inside Justin Haber's right-hand post to give the visitors a 2-0 lead -- and the ability to relax a little bit. It was a devastating blow for the Maltese. They gave just as good as they'd gotten in the first half, and going further behind just as we got to the interval was pretty unfortunate.
There was chances at both ends after the break, with Alex Muscat dragging just wide of Buffon's goal before Ignazio Abate's cross found Emanuele Giaccherini, who forced Haber into a flying stop as he tried to force the ball in at the near post. Malta continued to press for a goal, although Italy were more than happy to push forward when given a chance too.
Although the hosts still looked good, a two-goal cushion meant that the Azzurri didn't really have to worry about their points, so despite the match remaining interesting, Italy looked far less nervous in the second half than the first. At the end of ninety, Balotelli's brace stood up. We didn't get an upset, but that was some pretty entertaining football. I'll take it.