Portugal 1-0 Italy
Portugal began their Nations League campaign in positive fashion with a thoroughly deserved victory against Italy in Lisbon tonight. Remarkably it was the Seleção's first competitive victory over the Italians since 1957! In front of over 52,000 fans, the Seleção followed up their encouraging display against Croatia by largely dominating their storied opponents at the Estádio da Luz.
André Silva’s goal shortly after half time earned Portugal all three points, and only an excellent display by Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and some hesitant finishing prevented a wider margin of victory.
Fernando Santos stuck with the team that put in a lively performance against the Croats in the Algarve on Thursday, and the hosts almost had a dream start as William’s header from a fine Rúben Neves cross went narrowly wide, although a lineman’s flag would have ruled it offside.
Portugal continued on the front foot, and a slick move worked the ball to Bernardo Silva only for the Manchester City man to elect to pass instead of shooting with his weaker right foot and the chance was gone.
On a rare Italy foray into Portugal’s half, a powerful Chiesa snapshot made sure Patrício was alert. But the home side were well on top and the Seleção almost took the lead on 25 minutes as a sustained period of pressure saw Bruma head the ball across the six-yard box where it fell to Bernardo Silva, but the Manchester City man’s shot was cleared off the line by Jorginho.
Portugal were again inches away from scoring soon afterwards as another piercing Mário Rui incursion ended with a cross that ex-Benfica midfielder Cristante deflected towards his own net and the ball bounced capriciously off the bar.
With the home fans urging their favourites forward, Portugal twice came close in quick succession. First Pizzi went down in the box, but the referee turned down the loud penalty appeals, and soon afterwards William smashed a thunderbolt inches past the post.
The Seleção will have felt aggrieved to go into the break without a lead, but they did not take long to put that right in the second half. William and Bruma combined to win the ball in midfield, with the latter steaming towards goal and unselfishly squaring the ball to André Silva, who finished emphatically with his left foot.
Portugal continued to look the more dangerous side, with a spectacular Bernardo shot bringing an equally outstanding save out of Donnarumma, and Pizzi had a chance to double the lead after a neat Bernardo throughball, but he was denied by another fine diving save from the young AC Milan goalkeeper.
Italy were not done though, and an equaliser almost came from a corner, with Zaza connecting well from the cross but the ball went narrowly over the bar. The visitors gradually pushed Portugal back, but truth be told Rui Patrício was not seriously tested, and with a little more composure substitute Gelson could have killed the game on the break a couple of times, but he could not get the better of the impressive Donnarumma.
It mattered not, with Portugal proving that there is plenty of life in this Seleção beyond captain Cristiano Ronaldo.
By Tom Kundert, at the Estádio da Luz
Portugal: Rui Partício, João Cancelo, Pepe, Rúben Dias, Mário Rui, Rúben Neves, William Carvalho (Sérgio Oliveria, 85’), Pizzi (Renato Sanches, 73’), Bernardo Silva, Bruma, André Silva
Italy: Donnarumma, Lazzari, Caldara, Romagnoli, Criscito (Emerson, 73’), Jorginho, Cristante, Bomaventura, Zaza, Chiesa (Belotti, 79’), Immobile (Berardi, 58’)
[1-0] André Silva, 49’