Late substitute Matteo Politano scored an injury-time winner to lift a new-look Italy to a 1-0 win over the United States in an international friendly in Genk on Tuesday.
Roberto Mancini’s side had looked set for another goalless draw after crashing out of the Nations League with a 0-0 stalemate against Portugal in Milan on Saturday.
But Politano came on three minutes from time and slotted home in the 94th minute.
It got Italy belatedly off the mark in a match they had dominated but which demonstrated Mancini’s side’s difficulty converting opportunities into goals.
“We had so many chances, the important thing is that it was a good performance,” said Mancini.
“It was the first time we were playing together, so we couldn’t think of playing like the first half for 90 minutes.
“We got a little stretched as we pushed harder to find the breakthrough.
“I would have been very disappointed for it to end 0-0, especially for the players and for the Italians who came to see us.”
Mancini wanted to test new players as Italy head towards Euro 2020 qualifying after failing to make the World Cup finals in Russia.
Sassuolo midfielder Stefano Sensi, Hoffenheim’s Vincenzo Grifo and Juventus forward Moise Kean all made their Italy debuts.
Kean, born in February 2000, became the first player born in the 21st century to play for Italy, coming on after 62 minutes for Domenico Berardi.
“Sensi did really well, so did Kean and Grifo. Acerbi and De Sciglio impressed me too,” said Mancini.
“The Euro qualifiers are coming up next year, so we’ve had a few too many draws and defeats lately, here’s hoping we get all victories.”
Federico Chiesa and Leonardo Bonucci missed early chances as Italy dominated the first half and let the United States have few opportunities.
Under-pressure US goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, who plays his club football in Belgium for Club Brugge, got his fingers to a curling Berardi shot from the edge of the box, and then got down low to keep out a Marco Verratti free-kick.
Walker Zimmerman had a rare chance for the United States on 65 minutes from a free-kick, but home goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu saved his header.
With the clock ticking down, Mancini brought on Politano for Kevin Lasagna and he found a way through by finishing off an excellent move after Roberto Gagliardini and Verratti combined in the area.
For the United States the loss followed their 3-0 defeat by England at Wembley last week.
“We knew this fall series was going to be ambitious,” said caretaker US coach Dave Sarachan, who confirmed he would not be staying in the role.
“It was my last game,” said Sarachan.
“I feel as though this has been a very good year for the programme. I feel as though we moved it forward.
“We played a good team, who step on the field with a real confidence about them and we knew that there would be a lot of defending tonight.
“Ethan Horvath had a great night and made some great saves. He was man-of-the-match and did really well.”