An experimental Italy put up a fight in Nice, scoring with Leonardo Bonucci on Mario Balotelli’s free kick, but were beaten 3-1 by France.
Roberto Mancini won his debut, beating Saudi Arabia 2-1 with Mario Balotelli and Andrea Belotti on target, but made radical changes at the sold-out Allianz Riviera in Nice. Taking on one of the contenders for the 2018 World Cup, he surprisingly gave debuts to Mattia Caldara, Rolando Mandragora and Domenico Berardi, with Danilo D’Ambrosio only having one cap for a couple of minutes in 2017. Les Bleus pulled out all the big guns, including Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and former Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba.
France broke through with their first chance, as a free kick was not cleared properly, Pavard’s cross found Mbappé unmarked at the back post and Salvatore Sirigu parried from point-blank range, but only into the path of Samuel Umtiti.
Balotelli, playing in his ‘home’ stadium, blasted over the bar, but N’Golo Kante’s daisy-cutter smacked against the base of the near post.
Sirigu was decisive when sticking out a leg to parry Mbappe’s angled drive, then the PSG starlet curled inches past the top corner.
Debutant Mandragora gave away a penalty when he only brushed Lucas Hernandez, prompting the full-back to accidentally trip himself up, and Antoine Griezmann converted right into the bottom corner despite Sirigu guessing the right angle.
Balotelli was brought down right on the edge of the area, but VAR ruled it was outside the box and therefore only a free kick. Nonetheless, SuperMario hit a ferocious strike that nearly catapulted Hugo Lloris backwards and Bonucci turned in the rebound to get Italy back in the game.
Mattia De Sciglio’s interception prevented Mbappé’s pull-back reaching Ousmane Dembele, but the second half started with a bang. Within 30 seconds Balotelli had run on to a Berardi through ball and forced a tricky save from Lloris at the near post, but on the resulting corner Dembele went on a coast-to-coast counter-attack and struck the crossbar.
Federico Chiesa continued to impress, the 20-year-old springing the offside trap to sting the goalkeeper’s gloves with a curling finish.
Corentin Tolisso drilled wide after Mbappé drew Sirigu out in one of several wasted counter-attacks, but Dembele made it 3-1 with a stunning curler into the far top corner from the edge of the area. The move was sparked by a Jorginho error, but there was no arguing with the finish.
Balotelli’s header skimmed the bar and Chiesa pulled back for substitute Bryan Cristante’s volley to flash just wide of the upright. Balotelli ran on to Lorenzo Insigne’s through ball only to fire over from a tight angle.
Italy moved to a 4-2-3-1 formation in the final 12 minutes, but Sirigu performed a spectacular reaction save on Florian Thauvin’s volley into the ground from eight yards.
France 3-1 Italy
Umtiti 8 (F), Griezmann pen 29 (F), Bonucci 36 (I), Dembele 63 (F)
France: Lloris; Pavard, Rami, Umtiti, Lucas Hernandez (Mendy 61); Tolisso (Matuidi 77), Kanté, Pogba (N’Zonzi 86); Mbappé (Thauvin 82), Griezmann (Giroud 77), Dembélé (Lemar 70)
Italy: Sirigu; D’Ambrosio (Florenzi 74), Bonucci, Caldara, De Sciglio; Pellegrini (Cristante 65), Jorginho (Bonaventura 78), Mandragora; Berardi (Insigne 74), Balotelli (Belotti 86), Chiesa (Zappacosta 88)
Ref: Taylor (ENG)