Milan: Mario Balotelli scored one goal and set up another to help 10-man Italy to a 3-1 victory over Denmark in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday that marked his return to the national team. Balotelli was in inspirational form in creating Riccardo Montolivo's opener as well as scoring Italy's final goal early in the second half as Italy recorded its 34th match without defeat in qualifiers for the World Cup and European Championship.
Daniele De Rossi hit his third goal in four games in the 37th minute, while William Kvist pulled one back for Denmark in first-half stoppage time. Italy forward Pablo Osvaldo was sent off 16 seconds into the second half for a reckless elbow into Denmark midfielder Nicolai Stokholm's face.
"I am happy for two reasons," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "First, because we risked a lot but we tried to steal the ball in the first 20 minutes — I really liked this push by the group.
"Secondly, that when things went wrong, when we conceded a goal with the last kick of the first half and then were in 10 men immediately in second half, there I saw a team that really wanted to get an important result. A team with great focus and balance and we didn't even let Denmark have one chance in the second half," added Prandelli.
Italy is top of Group B with 10 points, four more than second-place Bulgaria, with both having played four games. Denmark is second from bottom with two points from three games. "It's true we've started the qualification badly, like we did six years ago," Denmark coach Morten Olsen said. "But we played well, I'm happy because I didn't think we could come to Italy and get many points. I hoped we'd get one but we didn't manage. The points lost were against the Czech Republic and not today."
"I can't be entirely happy with my defense as we conceded three goals. And obviously if you concede three goals you can't win the game. But I don't think even Prandelli can be entirely satisfied with his defense, as Denmark caused them a lot of problems and created many chances." added Olsen.
The Azzurri were boosted by the return of Balotelli for his first international since the Euro 2012 final loss to Spain. However, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon sat out the match with a left thigh problem. Balotelli missed qualifiers against Bulgaria and Malta last month after undergoing laser eye surgery, then also sat out Italy's 3-1 win in Armenia on Friday due to a fever.
"I hope he plays for at least the next 10 years!" Prandelli said. "I hope this can be the game that he understands that he doesn't always have to go for goal but can be generous. These are lads that are really serious and are great professionals, and that should also be taken into account as well as the performance. They managed to give something more tonight, which is what this Italy shirt deserves. The lads were really good tonight."
Italy was keen for victory after a draw against Denmark in their last meeting helped send the Azzuri out of Euro 2004 at the group stage. But it was Denmark which made the brighter start, with Nicklas Bendtner and Christian Eriksen going close. Balotelli was in action in the 19th minute when he passed to Claudio Marchisio, whose powerful 20-yard effort was headed off the line by Simon Kjaer in Italy's first real chance of the game.
Osvaldo — who had scored in all three of Italy's previous qualifiers this campaign — headed wide when Denmark goalkeeper came and failed to reach the ball. Italy took the lead when Montolivo drilled a delightful flick by Balotelli into the bottom left corner. The hosts doubled its lead in the 37th minute when Andrea Pirlo did well to evade his marker before crossing for De Rossi to head into the net, just as he had done in Friday's victory against Armenia.
Italy looked likely to go in at halftime with a comfortable cushion but Jacobsen's cross was deflected out to Kvist, who volleyed it into the bottom left corner. Immediately after the break, Osvaldo was sent off. "Osvaldo says he didn't do a brutal gesture," Prandelli said. "He just tried to free himself as his opponent was holding back his arm."
In the 54th minute, Andersen flapped at a long ball from Pirlo and Balotelli stretched out his leg to direct it past the Denmark goalkeeper. Jakob Poulsen almost scored a late consolation for Denmark but goalkeeper Morgan de Sanctis dived smartly to grab his low effort.