VADUZ (Reuters) - Italy, already qualified for Euro 2020, maintained their perfect record in Group J and clocked up a record-equalling ninth international win in a row with a 5-0 thumping of Liechtenstein on Tuesday.
Teemu Pukki scored twice as Finland beat Armenia 3-0 to strengthen their grip on second place and move closer to a first-ever appearance at either the Euro or World Cup finals while Bosnia & Herzegovina suffered a severe setback with a 2-1 defeat in Greece.
Italy have 24 points from eight games while Finland have 15, five ahead of Armenia and Bosnia. The top two teams qualify for Euro 2020.
Italy’s run, which includes a friendly win over the United States followed by their eight Euro qualifiers, is their longest since 1938-39 under Vittorio Pozzo.
“Am I interested in equalling Pozzo’s record? I would be interested in winning two World Cups and an Olympic Games like he did, but a European Championship would do just fine,” said Italy coach Roberto Mancini.
Mancini made 10 changes to the side which beat Greece on Saturday to clinch qualification, and gave a debut to Giovanni Di Lorenzo.
Liechtenstein nearly stunned the visitors after 40 seconds when Dennis Salanovic forced Salvatore Sirigu to save with his legs but, from the resulting corner, the hosts broke down the other end of the field and Federico Bernardeschi put them ahead.
Italy struggled to build on the early breakthrough and Sirigu had to make another difficult save from Salanovic’s curling shot just after the hour before the floodgates finally opened.
Andrea Belotti headed in from a corner in the 70th minute and, seven minutes later, Alessio Romangnoli headed in his first Italy goal from Stephan El Shaarawy’s cross. El Shaarawy, with a breakaway goal, and Belotti, with another header, rounded off the win.
“The important thing is that all the lads are really involved,” said Mancini, who has rejuvenated the team during his 18 months in charge. “And the truth is that, on June 1, I will be forced to make some important choices and some kids will have to miss out.”
Fredrik Jensen gave Finland a halftime lead against Armenia before Pukki scored two nearly identical goals in the second half.
Joel Pohjanpalo threaded a fine pass into the path of Pukki who clipped his finish over Armenia goalkeeper Aram Airapetyan in the 61st minute and the Norwich City forward repeated the trick in the 88th minute, this time from a Rasmus Schueller pass.
Bosnia were condemned to a 2-1 defeat in Greece when Adnan Kovacevic turned a Ioannis Fetfatzidis cross into his own net two minutes from time. Greece had gone ahead through Evangelos Pavlidis on the half hour with Amer Gojak equalising for Bosnia five minutes later.
Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Clare Fallon