Udine, March 24: Italy started their Euro 2020 qualification campaign in style as Nicolo Barella and Moise Kean scored their first international goals in a 2-0 victory over Finland.
Having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and put in a lacklustre showing in the Nations League, Italy were in need of a win to kick off their Group J campaign on a positive note.
And they were ahead early on in Udine when Cagliari youngster Barella – one of several fresh faces introduced under Roberto Mancini – hammered home from the edge of the box.
Teemu Pukki squandered a gilt-edged chance to restore parity midway through the second half, and Finland were made to pay for that miss when Juventus teenager Kean slotted in to make sure of the points.
Mancini's calls for his side to be more clinical were answered inside seven minutes – Barella's thunderous strike finding the bottom-right corner with the aid of a wicked deflection.
Italy almost threw away their lead eight minutes later, presenting Robin Lod with acres of space to run into, though he failed to trouble Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Sauli Vaisanen's clumsy challenge on Federico Bernardeschi should have resulted in an Italy penalty before the break, but referee Orel Grinfeld dismissed the hosts' claims.
Pukki should have hauled Finland level after the hour, but the in-form Norwich City striker drilled wide from Lod's pinpoint cross.
Italy soon made their good fortune count, Kean rushing through before sending a low finish past the onrushing Lukas Hradecky to wrap up the win in style, with substitute Fabio Quagliarella hitting the crossbar late on.
What does it mean? Azzurri on the right track
Italy had Spain to contend with in their World Cup 2018 qualification group, and though Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina do not present the same threat, it was still imperative that Mancini's side got off to a strong start in what is sure to be a tightly contested pool.
Barella, Kean make their mark
With injuries hitting Italy's squad, Mancini had little choice but to turn to youth, and both Barella – who has been linked with a big-money move to Chelsea – and Juventus forward Kean took full advantage of their chances to impress.
Pukki on the fringes
Pukki has scored 24 goals in 35 Championship appearances for Norwich this season, but he failed to bring that form to the international stage on Saturday, missing Finland's best opportunity.
Liechtenstein are next up for Italy in their second Group J outing on Tuesday (March 26), while Finland face Armenia.