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No joy for Armenia as Italy rally for Naples draw

By Terry Daley

(Reuters) - Italy ended Armenia's hopes of progressing to next year's World Cup with a 2-2 draw in their final Group B qualifier in Naples on Tuesday.

Armenia twice went in front but they were pegged back by a first international goal from Alessandro Florenzi and a Mario Balotelli strike.

Italy booked their ticket to the finals in Brazil by topping the group while Armenia finished second from bottom after starting the day with an outside chance of claiming second spot and a place in next month's playoffs.

"We started really badly with an embarrassing opening 20 minutes. Then we raised the tempo and from then on played quite well," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told Rai Sport.

"Unfortunately we conceded from a corner that we gifted them and came close to throwing everything away (but) I saw players who never gave up and that was a positive sign."

Spartak Moscow striker Yura Movsisyan capitalized on a sloppy start from the hosts to give Armenia a fourth-minute lead after Alberto Aquilani had given the ball away cheaply in front of his own penalty area.

Italy slowly took a grip of the game and in the 24th minute Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne, playing on his home ground, clipped a perfect cross for Florenzi to head in.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan put Armenia back in front when he rose above a sleepy defense at a 70th-minute corner to head powerfully past Federico Marchetti.

Balotelli equalized six minutes later when he raced on to a perfect through pass from Andrea Pirlo to score in stylish fashion.

The AC Milan striker then almost grabbed a wonder goal in stoppage time, shooting just wide after charging almost the entire length of the field and taking on the Armenia defense on his own.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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