World champions Italy win but struggle against Cyprus

( dpa ) - A dithering Italy snatched a late 2-1 win through an Antonio Di Natale brace Saturday away to a gritty Cyprus in the stifling heat of Larnaca.

The short striker confirmed his good form putting Italy one up on eight minutes and secured Italy's win in injury time.

Di Natale, who scored a brace for his side Udinese last weekend, beat goalkeeper Antonis Georgallides firing a low shot by the first post from outside the area and notched the winner laying in off an assist from Mauro Camoranesi.

The reigning world champions lost young defender Alessandro Gamberini to a shoulder injury in the first minute and replaced him with world champion Andrea Barzagli.

But the defence struggled through most of the game, showing none of the solidity that allowed them to concede only two goals at the successful 2006 World Cup.

Cypriot strikers Efstathios Aloneftis and Michalis Constantinou forced saves from Gianluigi Buffon on five and seven minutes, but the two Cypriot strikers and captain Ioannis Okkas came close again and Fabio Cannavaro had to make a goal-line clearance before Buffon's save on 11 minutes.

Another blow to Italy's shaky defence came from an injury to Fabio Grosso, who was replaced by Marco Cassetti on 18 minutes, 10 minutes before Aloneftis laid into the empty net after Buffon only managed to slap a low cross from the right.

A fierce drive from Cassetti before the break caused trouble to Georgallides, causing a the goalkeeper a minor leg injury.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi in the second half brought on Gennaro Gattuso for the evanescent striker Luca Toni to support a midfield where only Mauro Camoranesi lived up to his world champion fame.

A great chance went begging for Italy as Alberto Gilardino failed to profit from a defence blunder on 68, shortly before Daniele De Rossi missed a lob from the distance and Barzagli fired feebly as he tried to top off a hammering action.

As the hosts seemed to lose steam, De Rossi had a long-range saved on 71 minutes, but four minutes later Dimitris Christofi threatened with a piercing break to fire wide past Buffon.

The goalkeeper seemed beaten again on 80 minutes as Elias Charalambous deflected wide a corner kick, but saved well an Aloneftis and was graced by yet another close-range mistake from Christofi before Di Natale's goal froze the home crowd.

"No doubt we reaped more than we deserved. We prepared the game in a certain way, risking with a solid attack. The two injuries in 10 minutes were bad. We suffered against a great opponent, (who are) well off physically and fast. We are not at our maximum, we had some luck and we kept with us," Lippi said.

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