Mario Balotelli scored twice as Italy overcame a shaky start to beat Malta 2-0 on Tuesday, extending the Azzurri's lead at the top of their World Cup qualifying group.
Balotelli put Italy ahead with a penalty after seven minutes at Ta'Qali National Stadium and doubled the lead in the 45th, taking his tally to 10 goals in nine matches this year for club and country.
Balotelli also scored the equalizer in a comeback 2-2 draw with Brazil in a friendly last week, and he has seven goals in six matches with AC Milan since transferring back to Italy from Manchester City in January.
''It definitely wasn't one of our best matches,'' said midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, a teammate of Balotelli's at Milan. ''But we have a star up front and he decided the match today. Mario is also making an incredible impact with Milan. Let's hope he keeps it up.''
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon marked his 126th appearance for Italy - matching Paolo Maldini for second all-time behind Fabio Cannavaro's record 1...