Italy 0-0 Portugal

Portugal were outplayed from the first minute, but found the will to endure a stern test from Italy and earn the result they needed to win their Nations League group tonight in Milan. 

Roberto Mancini clearly understood what was at stake and his side relentlessly pressed the visitors, but Portugal were resolute and gave away relatively few clear chances.

Big performances from José Fonte and the rest of the back four were instrumental as Portugal were forced to hold on for long stretches of the game, especially in the first half. The win marks another crucial milestone in the the squad's evolution without Cristiano Ronaldo. 

The Seleção arrived in Milan knowing a draw would seal pole position in Group 3 of League A with a game to spare. Fears regarding Cristiano Ronaldo's absence had been calmed somewhat by strong performances in the UEFA Nations League, and Portugal was yet again without its talisman against an Italy side still trying to sort out its own identity. But having secured victory over Poland in their most recent match, the hosts had everything to play for at the San Siro despite the criticism they had endured since failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Santos ran out the same starting XI that defeated Poland last month with the exception of Rafa Silva and Pepe who were replaced by Bruma and José Fonte, respectively. 

Italy dominant in first half

Italy had the better of the opening exchange and threatened down Portugal's left side as the Seleção struggled to keep possession. Patrício was called into action to keep out a long range effort from Insigne in the 5th minute with the follow-up skied over the bar by Immobile. Minutes later Florenzi's shot passed just the wrong side of the right post.

Bruma finally created some danger in the 10th minute when he burst into the penalty area only to see his shot well-blocked by Chiellini. Bernardo Silva then released Cancelo down the right with his cross narrowly cut out before reaching André Silva. 

But Italy's withering press repeatedly caused Portugal to give away possession, often in dangerous areas. Patrício came out well to clear a dangerous through ball into the right side of the penalty area with Chiesa bearing down in the 35th minute. Somehow Portugal made it through to halftime despite completing only 66% of their passes and having registered only 27% possession and two shots compared to Italy's nine.

Portugal chances

The second half began as the first ended with Italy dominant all over the pitch. Portugal were rarely permitted to venture outside their own half, but they were able to limit goalscoring chances for Italy. Santos replaced Pizzi with João Mário in the 68th minute. The substitute quickly made an impact as Cancelo's cross found him with space in the penalty area, but after a neat turn he lost composure and shot well over the bar. Neves had started the move with a wonderful, raking cross to find Cancelo.

Minutes later, Portugal had another great chance to score. This time William was denied by a brilliant save from Donnarumma after he latched onto a poor clearance on the edge of the penalty area. Portugal had modestly improved as Italy's press broke down, but chances remained at a premium for both sides. 

Despite injury concerns, Guerreiro was thrown on for Bruma with five minutes remaining in the match. Pellegrini's stoppage time header following a corner was easily gathered by Patricio and Portugal closed out the match with relative ease.

Santos might not have been pleased with how his side played through much of the game but he surely will not be disappointed with the result. Portugal move into the semifinals of the Nations League to be played in Portugal next June, their opponents to be determined.

The back four was superb against Italy but it must be said that Portugal's Achilles Heel might be its inability to create chances on the counterattack when trying to withstand a tight press. Bernardo Silva's off night could be partly to blame in this instance, but Mário's second half cameo is an encouraging sign with the midfielder only having recently played meaningful time for his club, Inter Milan.

Unbeaten

Though it remains to be seen whether Cristiano Ronaldo will return to the squad in Nations League play, Portugal remain undefeated in the competition and will relish the opportunity to vie for the title in front of their own fans.

Portugal finish group play against Poland, who have already been relegated to Group B, on Tuesday night in Guimarães. 

 

 by Nathan Motz 

 

Portugal: Rui Patrício; João Cancelo, José Fonte, Rúben Dias, Mário Rui; William Carvalho, Rúben Neves, Pizzi (Mário, 68'), Bernardo Silva, André Silva, Bruma (Guerreiro, 85')


Italy: Donnarumma, Biraghi, Chiellini, Bonucci, Florenzi, Barella, Jorginho, Veratti (Pellegrini, 81'), Insigne, Immobile (Lasagna, 74'), Chiesa

 

Comments (11)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

It's so easy to criticize being outplayed especially in the first half, but no one can estimate the pressure we were under playing in SanSiro against a new in form Italy who did all to win, but failed, due to a strong and composed Portugal, who...

It's so easy to criticize being outplayed especially in the first half, but no one can estimate the pressure we were under playing in SanSiro against a new in form Italy who did all to win, but failed, due to a strong and composed Portugal, who did the job right, thanks to all of the 11 who did well. We were better in the second half, I'm impressed by the new Joaõ Mario. Job done, let's now beat Poland to keep our heads high.

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Portugal played like they didn't need to win and it showed, even so they managed to hold back Italy so its a mixed feeling towards the game, a draw was the fair result

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Santos' game plan was clear from the get go. He wanted us to sit deep in a compact 4-1-4-1 shape and look to hit on the counter, but Italy's outstanding press prevented us from posing much of a threat in possession. They completely suffocated us...

Santos' game plan was clear from the get go. He wanted us to sit deep in a compact 4-1-4-1 shape and look to hit on the counter, but Italy's outstanding press prevented us from posing much of a threat in possession. They completely suffocated us the entire first half, but in all honesty, lacked the cutting edge to create quality chances from open play. Apart from the Immobile chance, Italy found it very difficult to find space in between the lines or in behind our back four.

In the second half was far more balanced with Portugal pressing higher up the pitch and Italy understandably falling victim to fatigue. By the 70th minute, we were in complete control. Joao Mario's introduction for the completely ineffective Pizzi helped shift the balance of play in our favor, but in at the end of the day, Italy's inability to capitalize on their maintain their press proved to be the difference.

Jose Fonte, Joao Cancelo, and Ruben Dias were the standouts for me. Fonte in particular was superb in Pepe's absence. Patricio, William, and Joao Mario also had their moments. Bernardo and Andre Silva were disappointing, but they was starved of possession for most of the match, so their subdued performances were understandable.

Hopefully Santos will ring in the changes against Poland on Tuesday, and with nothing but pride to play for, I hope we'll see an open, entertaining game.

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We are in as Hosts! Congrats!

It is clear that Santos played it safe, and better to get in, then lose and have a weird result against Poland. Italy had noting to lose, so they had to go for the win.

Still in the first half they couldn't keep...

We are in as Hosts! Congrats!

It is clear that Santos played it safe, and better to get in, then lose and have a weird result against Poland. Italy had noting to lose, so they had to go for the win.

Still in the first half they couldn't keep the ball, they should have done better. In the second half with the press they came back into the game.

Will echo Jon's analysis, spot on.

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Maybe you guys can stop feeding that we don't need CR7 nonsense...you know how many games throughout the years the national team played shit like that vs lesser opponents than Italy only to be rescued by a Ronaldo goal..gtfoh with that trash you...

Maybe you guys can stop feeding that we don't need CR7 nonsense...you know how many games throughout the years the national team played shit like that vs lesser opponents than Italy only to be rescued by a Ronaldo goal..gtfoh with that trash you oughta all be ashamed

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Steve, believe me when I say that none of us on this site want Ronaldo out of the squad by any means, but it is important to discuss how the squad is changing without him. We clearly needed Ronaldo last night. I'm still happy to see that the...

Steve, believe me when I say that none of us on this site want Ronaldo out of the squad by any means, but it is important to discuss how the squad is changing without him. We clearly needed Ronaldo last night. I'm still happy to see that the squad has been doing pretty well without him because it used to be the case that our team was a shambles if he missed a match for whatever reason. That our team has some structure and is learning to play coherently on its own is a big deal because Ronaldo will not be with us forever.

Hoping Ronaldo will be back soon!

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Portugal sat too deep in the first half. Under Santos we only get width through our full backs, and Cancelo and Rui Mario were pinned back. The second half was better, Portugal started to sit higher up the field and we started to posses through...

Portugal sat too deep in the first half. Under Santos we only get width through our full backs, and Cancelo and Rui Mario were pinned back. The second half was better, Portugal started to sit higher up the field and we started to posses through the middle more.

Bernardo is not a winger, not in this step up. He plays out there for Man City, but their focus of wingback allows him to tuck in.

Andre Silva played against Italy, like he played in Italy(Serie A), poor. He gets bossed by stronger defenders too easily, he really needs to work on his athleticism.

This was the type of game that could of used an in-form Renato Sanches, at least in the first half.

All and all it was a result and if these results leads to another trophy, I’m all for it. FORCA

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Bonucci also said that Santos' decision to move Bernardo Silva to midfield helped Portugal nullify Marco Verratti, who was running rings around Pizzi the entire first half. Bernardo may have had a very quiet game by his standards, but his ability...

Bonucci also said that Santos' decision to move Bernardo Silva to midfield helped Portugal nullify Marco Verratti, who was running rings around Pizzi the entire first half. Bernardo may have had a very quiet game by his standards, but his ability to work tirelessly (and intelligently) without the ball cannot be overstated. Manchester City, by all accounts are looking even more dominant than they were last season. The fact that they have been able to raise their game to an even higher level without last seasons's MVP is a testament to just how effective Bernardo can be in a more central role.

Yes, he was superb on the wing against Italy at home and against Poland away, but I've always felt we'd be better off utilizing a tactical scheme that is essentially designed to maximize Bernardo's influence in our attacking play. He can still be extremely effective out wide, especially when he's supported by a world-class attacking right-back like Cancelo, but if we are to get the very best out of the most talented player this country has produced since Ronaldo, we're going to have to move him inside.

I'd love to see a midfield trio of Bernardo, William, and Ruben Neves in the Nations League finals and in our upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers. Ronaldo and Andre Silva should start together against inferior opposition, and the likes of Bruma, Goncalo Guedes, and Rafa will complete for a spot on the wing.

Joao Mario, Renato Sanches, Bruno Fernandes, and Danilo provide much needed depth -- something we sorely lacked from 2010-2017.

The only area of concern is at the heart of our defense. Pepe may only have another year or two left in the tank before he starts to seriously decline (he'll be 36 in a few months), yet he remains our best defender. Jose Fonte put in an excellent display last night against the Italians, but like Pepe, he is nearing the twilight of his career. Ruben Dias center-back we have under the age of 30 on the national team set-up at the moment, and that is certainly alarming. Pedro Mendes got a call-up but he's by no means a youngster (28). In all honesty, if you look around Portugal (and Europe) it's hard to find any young Portuguese center-backs who are playing consistently at a high level. Even the immensely talented youth national teams lack quality and depth in that position -- Diogo Leite, Ferro, Queiros, etc all have potential, but they are all far from established starters.

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Seeing as Felipe keeps on making mistakes I can see Diogo Leite getting some chances in the future. He impressed in his few games before Eder Militao came in and quite a few of us would like to see Militao/Leite at the back.

Also, was talking...

Seeing as Felipe keeps on making mistakes I can see Diogo Leite getting some chances in the future. He impressed in his few games before Eder Militao came in and quite a few of us would like to see Militao/Leite at the back.

Also, was talking with a friend about what Benfica lacked and he said "a good striker"... then Seferovic scores a hat-trick against Belgium!

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It was a bit of a strange game in that although Portugal were starved of possession I still got the feeling that at most we would bend and not break. The Fonte Dias CB pairing was somewhat surprisingly solid, though of course it helps when the...

It was a bit of a strange game in that although Portugal were starved of possession I still got the feeling that at most we would bend and not break. The Fonte Dias CB pairing was somewhat surprisingly solid, though of course it helps when the rest of the team is parking the bus.

It’s hard to fault Santos for setting the team up the way he did and getting the result, but I still think it’s a shame that they appear to be instructed not to play more expressively when you consider we how much creativity and attacking talent we have. Bernardo Silva is a joy to watch with City pretty much every game, but Portugal’s set up doesn’t seem to bring out the best in him.

It would be great if we could somehow revert to a more ambitious attacking style but if we continue to get results I suppose there aren’t many reasons to complain.

On another note, I continue to be astounded by Joao Cancelo for both club and country, as he’s improved so much these past couple of years. He’s really a joy to watch both defensively and in attack. I can’t see anyone else replacing him in that RB slot with the foreseeable future, which is saying a lot considering how much talent we have there.

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another very poor game by the selecao reminding us of the Morocco game at the WC. Once again easily intimidated, giving possession at the drop of a hat and general lack of personality leaving the defense to run for their lives throughout. The...

another very poor game by the selecao reminding us of the Morocco game at the WC. Once again easily intimidated, giving possession at the drop of a hat and general lack of personality leaving the defense to run for their lives throughout. The only reason they weren't losing by 3 or 4 at the half was because of the incompetence of the italian forwards and some good saves. Santos takes way too long to make player or tactical changes when things aren't going well during a game. In any case just wondering how long they think they can continue to ride their luck to get by.

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