BARI, Italy — Italy forward Domenico Berardi scored twice as the home side cruised to a 4-0 win over Malta in their Euro 2024 Group C qualifier.
The European champions had few problems at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari, despite contending with injuries, against a Malta side without a win so far in the qualifying campaign.
Italy is second in the table ahead on goal difference of Ukraine, who earlier won 2-0 against North Macedonia.
Both teams have 10 points but Italy has a match in hand on all their group rivals except England, who top the group with 13 points.
England host Italy in their next qualifier on Tuesday.
Giacomo Bonaventura opened the scoring after 23 minutes, netting his first international goal with a skilful right-foot curler into the top corner from just inside the penalty area.
Berardi increased Italy’s lead with a left-foot curler just before halftime and added his second goal in the 64th minute with a precise finish from a cut-back.
In the closing moments, Davide Frattesi scored the final goal of the night, skilfully slotting a low shot from the edge of the area into the bottom corner.
Hungary remains top of Group G after beating second-placed Serbia 2-1, with all the goals coming in the first half. Hungary has 13 points, three points above Serbia with a game in hand.
In Group H, leaders Slovenia beat third-placed Finland 3-0 with a Benjamin Sesko double, including a penalty, and a late goal by Erik Janza.
They are level on 16 points with second-placed Denmark, who won 3-1 at home to Kazakhstan.
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 Coverciano training center in a betting investigation. The Premier League players later left the camp.
Italy was also hit by injuries so Bonaventura made his first Azzurri 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.
Moise Kean tried to dribble into the area but he was blocked and the ball fell to Bonaventura for a magnificent curled effort into the top right corner.
It was the 34-year-old´s first Italy goal, in his 15th appearance for his country.
Berardi had already scored six goals for Italy but hadn´t found the back of the net in more than two years. He ended that on the stroke of halftime with an effort that went in off the inside of the far post.
And Berardi doubled his tally in the 64th minute following a move that was started by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Giacomo Raspadori crossed the ball from the left and Kean missed it but it came through for Berardi to rush onto at the back post.
Frattesi came on a minute later and went on to score his third goal in his last two matches for his country to cap a morale-boosting win for Italy, although the Azzurri will be expecting a sterner test against England.