PALERMO (Sicily): Two goals from Christian Vieri and an inspirational performance from Francesco Totti guided Italy to a 2-0 win over Finland in European Championship qualifying Group Nine on Saturday.
The victory keeps the hopes of Giovanni Trapattoni's side of automatic qualification alive although they still trail group leaders Wales by five points.
Both goals were created by the outstanding Totti as Trapattoni's preferred strike pairing with Vieri was re-united for the first time since the World Cup Finals and showed exactly what the Azzurri have been missing.
Italy went ahead after six minutes when, following a neat exchange in midfield, Marco Delvecchio fed Totti on the left and his low cross was driven home by Vieri at the back post.
Vieri, top scorer in Serie A this season with 23 goals for Inter, looked hungry to add to his account and Finnish keeper Antti Niemi did well to keep out his well-struck drive in the 12th minute as Italy piled on the pressure.
The second came from the same source in the 23rd minute, though, as Delvecchio played the ball out to Totti on the halfway line and the Roma forward's sublime pass with the outside of his foot released Vieri who burst through before firing past Niemi.
Vieri might well have sealed his hat-trick in the 29th minute when Mauro Camoranesi broke unchallenged from midfield and fed the burly Inter Milan striker but he opted to play the ball across the face of the goal to Totti, who was unable to make contact with the low cross.
Finland's Mika Nurmela went close with a fierce drive, tipped wide by Gianluigi Buffon, just after the break but then Totti hit the post for Italy as they comfortably cruised to victory.
The visitors simply did not have an answer to Totti's displays of control, vision, passing and dribbling and he had sight of goal again as he weaved his way past two defenders on a run into the box but stumbled inside the area.
Rather predictably, the Italians took their foot off the gas in the latter stages but although they conceded more space and possession to Antti Muurinen's side their defence was rarely in trouble.
Italy move into second place in the group with seven points but still have much work to do, after their defeat to Wales and draw with Serbia and Montenegro earlier in the campaign, if they are to avoid the play-offs as their route to next year's finals in Portugal. – Reuters