PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP): Italy scored early and late Saturday to beat Montenegro 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier.
The Italians took the lead in the 11th minute on a penalty kick by Andrea Pirlo after Montenegro defender Radoslav Batak handled the ball inside the box after a cross. Pirlo lobbed goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic from the spot.
Giampaolo Pazzini, playing his first game for the world champions, made it 2-0 in the 74th after heading in a cross from Pepe Simeone from a close range.
Italy controlled the game, starting with a good chance in the second half. Vincenzo Iaquinta missed from a close range after a pass from Simone.
"This is a good win," Italy coach Marcello Lippi said. "We received a gift penalty which we did not entirely deserve. We played much better in the second half, deserving the important victory."
The Montenegrins, playing only their fourth official game after becoming an independent nation in 2006, attacked, but rarely created chances.
Their best opportunity came in the 67th after Giorgio Chellini misjudged a cross, leaving Montenegro striker Radomir Djalovic one-on-one with Gianluigi Buffon, but the Italy goalkeeper made a spectacular one-handed reflex save on a close-range shot.
"It's always tough when a team concedes a goal so early, especially against teams like Italy," said Montenegro midfielder Stevan Jovetic, who plays for Fiorentina in the Serie A. "But, it's not a shame losing 2-0 against the world champions."
Montenegro captain Mirko Vucinic missed the game due to accumulated cards, having picked up a yellow in a 2-1 loss to Italy in October. Italy midfielder Alberto Aquilani scored his first two international goals in that game but was unavailable this time as he returns from injury.
The Italians were also missing their top two strikers, with Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino both injured. Lippi lined up Antonio Di Natale on the wing, with Vincenzo Iaquinta at center forward.
But Di Natale had to be substituted by Simone in the ninth minute after a injury, apparently a twisted ankle.
Also unavailable for Italy ware midfielders Gennaro Gattuso, Mauro Camoranesi and Simone Perrotta, meaning Sampdoria's Angelo Palombo was called on to join Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi in the middle of Lippi's 4-3-3 formation.
Italy has 13 points in Group 8, with Montenegro remaining with two.
"Another good thing is that Ireland drew with Bulgaria," said Lippi, whose team is now two points ahead of the second-place Irish.
Montenegro: Vukasin Poleksic, Marko Basa, Savo Pavicevic, Radoslav Batak, Simon Vukcevic (Elsad Zverotic, 90), Stevan Jovetic, Radomir Djalovic (Fatos Beciraj, 71), Branko Boskovic, Vladimir Bozovic, Milorad Pekovic (Nikola Vujovic, 80), Nikola Drincic. Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Grosso, Giorgio Chellini, Fabio Cannevaro (Matteo Brigghi, 82), Daniele De Rossi, Fabio Quagliarella, Angelo Palombo, Vincenzo Iaquinta (Giampaolo Pazzini, 55) Andrea Pirlo, Antonio Di Natale (Pepe Simone, 9).