Pazzini strikes as Italy beat Montenegro

PODGORICA - Debutant Giampaolo Pazzini was on target to help Italy beat Montenegro 2-0 on Saturday and move two points clear at the top of World Cup qualifying Group Eight. The Sampdoria forward, who came on for Vincenzo Iaquinta in the second half, headed in a Simone Pepe cross for the world champions' second in the 73rd minute. Midfielder Andrea Pirlo had coolly chipped a penalty into the top corner to give Italy the lead in the 11th minute after handball by Radoslav Batak. Italy have 13 points from five games, while second-placed Ireland have 11 after being held 1-1 by Bulgaria in Dublin. The two sides meet on Wednesday in a top-of-the-table clash in Bari. "We didn't play too well in the first half. We had this gift of a penalty. We didn't deserve it that much," Italy coach Marcello Lippi told Rai television. "But in the second half the team played with personality, had lots of chances and only risked conceding once so I'm satisfied. "Now we have a two-point lead over them (Ireland) and we have the possibility to improve the advantage on Wednesday, although two points are already good." Italy started without a host of injured regulars and suffered a further blow in the ninth minute when forward Pepe had to come on after his Udinese team mate Antonio Di Natale tumbled on the slippery surface and hurt his knee. Their spirits were raised two minutes later after Batak gave away a spot kick by blatantly cutting out a cross with his hand. The home side, without suspended captain Mirko Vucinic in attack, made the running during the rest of the first half. But the Azzurri absorbed the pressure and Pepe should have extended their lead in the 24th minute when he blasted the ball over the bar from an excellent position. Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro, however, had been lucky to get away with only a yellow card before that when he rectified an Angelo Palombo blunder by tripping Stevan Jovetic as he charged towards goal. The visitors looked brighter at the start of the second half when Iaquinta mis-hit his shot with the goal gaping and a powerful strike from outside the box by midfielder Daniele De Rossi forced a save from Vukasin Poleksic. The hosts had their best chance in the 67th minute when goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon produced an excellent save to deny Radomir Djalovic from short range. Montenegro have two points and share the bottom spot with Georgia, who they visit in Tbilisi on Wednesday.