Federico Chiesa has scored seven times for Italy

Rome (AFP) - Italy took a big step towards qualification for Euro 2024 on Friday after an eventful 5-2 win over North Macedonia.

Federico Chiesa struck twice in the first half after Matteo Darmian nodded the hosts into an early lead. Giacomo Raspadori and Stephan El Shaarawy secured the three points late on and two second-half strikes from Jani Atanasov threatened a tense night for the Azzurri.

The win at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome moved Italy into second in Group C behind already-qualified England.

It means that Luciano Spalletti’s team need only draw against third-placed Ukraine in Leverkusen on Monday to book a place in next summer’s tournament in Germany.

“The important thing is that we won. We conceded two goals that I don’t think we deserved to concede,” said Chiesa.

“We are more positive under Spalletti, and that means we take a few more risks in defence. We showed that we wanted to dominate the play and we deserved to win.”

Qualifying would help the European champions bury the ghosts of last year’s traumatic failure to qualify for a second straight World Cup.

North Macedonia had become Italy’s bogey team after denying Italy a spot in Qatar and drawing the previous group match in September.

Italy, missing a host of players to either injury or suspension, thought they had taken the lead in the 13th minute when Raspadori dinked home from Jorginho’s beautifully weighted pass.

- Italy near the Euros -

That strike was ruled out for offside, but the hosts would not be denied and Darmian headed home the opener from Raspadori’s deep cross four minutes later.

That was Inter Milan defender Darmian’s second international goal and his first in eight years.

The spectre of another disaster reared its head when Jorginho missed yet another penalty in Italy colours five minutes before the break.

The midfielder’s missed spot-kick at the same ground against Switzerland cost Italy direct qualification to the last World Cup, but Jorginho had a chance at redemption when Nikola Serafimov handled Federico Gatti’s header.

This time his dribbled effort was easily saved by Stole Dimitrievski.

Old demons could have come back to haunt Italy, but almost immediately Chiesa doubled the lead with a thumping low drive.

On the stroke of half-time, Chiesa had his second of the game when his ambitious strike took a wicked deflection off Jovan Manev and past Dimitrievski.

Italy looked home and dry, but Atanasov cut the deficit in the 52nd minute when he ghosted past a dozing Italy defence and headed in with his team’s first attempt on target.

The 24-year-old sent a wave of worry around the ground in the 74th minute when his speculative shot deflected off Francesco Acerbi and past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Raspadori allayed any fears of a meltdown with a well-struck left-foot finish nine minutes from the end. In stoppage time, El Shaarawy then gave the match a score which better reflected the balance of play.