Euro 2024 qualifiers: Italy cruise past Malta to keep pressure on England

Italy put a scandal-ridden week behind them to beat Malta 4-0 and move within three points of the Group C leaders, England, ahead of their meeting at Wembley on Tuesday.

Giacomo Bonaventura opened the scoring with his first goal for the Azzurri and Domenico Berardi ended his goal drought in style by netting in each half. The substitute Davide Frattesi struck in stoppage time to continue his scoring streak.

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Italy’s preparations for the match in Bari had been interrupted midweek when police questioned Sandro Tonali and Nicolò Zaniolo at the national team’s training centre in a betting investigation.

Italy were also hit by injuries so Bonaventura made his first appearance in three years and he became the oldest player to score his first goal for the national team when he broke the deadlock in the 25th minute.

Berardi had not found the net in more than two years but ended that barren run on the stroke of half-time with an effort that went in off the inside of the far post before doubling his tally in the 64th minute from Giacomo Raspadori’s cross.

Frattesi came on as a substitute to score his third goal in his last two matches for his country.

Ukraine are level with Italy on ten points following their 2-0 win over North Macedonia. Oleksandr Karavaev’s added-time goal made the points safe after Georgiy Sudakov opened the scoring on 30 minutes.

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England need only draw with Italy to qualify

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Ukraine’s 2-0 victory against North Macedonia means England will qualify for Euro 2024 if they avoid defeat at home to Italy on Tuesday. 

A draw would leave England with 14 points and a superior head-to-head record against both Italy and Ukraine, the two sides who could overtake them. But Ukraine host Italy in their final match.

Ukraine have 10 points with two games left and would need to beat Malta and then Italy to overtake England. While Italy would reach 11 points with a draw against England, to then surpass England’s 14 points they would need to beat North Macedonia then avoid defeat against Ukraine – in doing the latter they would stop their opponents overtaking Gareth Southgate’s team.

If England beat Italy on Tuesday then they will have won the group. Should Southgate’s side lose, then a win next month at home to Malta or away to North Macedonia would also take them through.

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Michael O’Neill was delighted to see Paul Smyth grab his Northern Ireland chance with both hands as the QPR winger got a goal and an assist on his first international start in a 3-0 win over San Marino.

Smyth, who also had a goal disallowed, did his best to light up what was a largely drab affair at Windsor Park as Northern Ireland ended a run of five straight defeats in Euro 2024 qualifying.

His trademark backflip celebration was seen five minutes into the match after he leapt to volley in a Jamal Lewis cross and six minutes later Smyth’s low cross was turned home by Josh Magennis. The substitute Conor McMenamin made it 3-0 with his first international goal late on.

Paul Smyth does a backflip after scoring for Northern Ireland.Paul Smyth celebrates after scoring Northern Ireland’s opening goal in the win over San Marino. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Smyth, who this summer returned to QPR after two years with Leyton Orient, made his Northern Ireland debut five years ago but this was only his sixth cap. “He’s had to be patient, Paul,” O’Neill said. “I gave him his debut against South Korea in 2018. We are five years on and his appearances have been limited since then. It was a brilliant finish for his goal.”

The San Marino coach, Fabrizio Costantini, called Northern Ireland deserving winners, but also felt the substitute Conor Washington should have seen red when he caught Lorenzo Lazzari heavily on the ankle in the 66th minute. The referee, Bram van Driessche of Belgium, was sent to the monitor by the VAR but opted only to book Washington.

Benjamin Sesko scored twice to help Slovenia to a 3-0 win over Finland and give them a slender advantage over Denmark at the top of Group H. Erik Janza added a third in stoppage-time.

Denmark beat Kazakhstan 3-1 at home to remain level on points with Slovenia. Jonas Wind opened the scoring after 36 minutes with Robert Skov putting the hosts in total control with goals either side of the interval.

Hungary assumed pole position in the race to qualify from Group G after beating Serbia 2-1 at home. Barnabas Varga gave Hungary the lead and a superb 25-yard volley from Roland Sallai restored their advantage after Strahinja Pavlovic had headed an equaliser.

In the other match in Group G, two goals from Pijus Sirvys earned Lithuania a 2-0 win away to Bulgaria who were reduced to 10 men just before half-time when BozhidarKraev was shown a second yellow card.