Lazio striker Ciro Immobile grabbed an injury-time winner as four-time champions Italy snatched a 3-2 comeback win at Macedonia on Sunday, narrowly avoiding a World Cup qualifying embarrassment.
Italy, who had needed a late penalty to salvage a point against Group G rivals Spain on Thursday, were staring at a shock defeat in Skopje against a Macedonia side ranked a lowly 146 in the world.
Torino striker Andrea Belotti had given Italy a 24th-minute lead just four minutes after Palermo marksman Ilija Nestorokvski had crashed a drive off the crossbar for the hosts.
But Nestorokvski levelled just before the hour mark when he robbed Marco Verratti before tucking the ball past veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Two minutes later, Macedonia were ahead when midfielder Ferhan Hasani finished a smart move involving Goran Pandev and Nestorovski. However Immobile put Italy back on equal terms at 2-2 with 15 minutes left after good approach work from Verratti and Antonio Candreva.
On 90 minutes, Marco Parolo had a header ruled out for offside before club teammate Immobile saved Italy with the winner two minutes into injury time, finishing off a Candreva cross.
“We were weak and let up in the second half. You can’t give anything away at international level, we had to be more ruthless,” admitted Immobile.
Italy are second in Group G with seven points but Spain lead the way on goal difference after a deserved 2-0 win over Albania in Shkoder.
Chelsea star Diego Costa tucked away the first on 55 minutes past goalkeeper Etrit Berisha who had pulled off a series of fine saves in the first half.
Nolito hit the second of the night just three minutes after coming on as a substitute for Vitolo.
“This was a very difficult match even if it appeared easy,” said Nolito. “Albania are a good side who know how to play.”
The only downside for Spain was seeing key defender and skipper Sergio Ramos suffer a left knee injury which could sideline him for three matches with his club side, Real Madrid.