Saturday November 17 2018
NL: Portugal stall wasteful Italy

Italy dominated the first hour against Portugal, but couldn’t make their chances count, so Portugal emerged with the point they needed to top the Nations League group.

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The Azzurri were safe from the threat of relegation and could still make the Final Four of the Nations League with a victory, but needed to win by two clear goals and hope Poland don’t lose the last match with Portugal on Tuesday. Giorgio Chiellini celebrated his 100th Italy cap, precisely 14 years to the day since his debut against Finland. The only change from the XI that beat Poland last month was Federico Bernardeschi out injured, moving Lorenzo Insigne wide left and bringing in Ciro Immobile. Pepe was suspended for Portugal, who had won both their Nations League games thus far with Milan-owned Andre Silva scoring twice.

This was the Selecao’s fifth visit to Milan and they’d lost the previous four, while the Nazionale were unbeaten at San Siro. It was their first game here since the ill-fated 0-0 World Cup play-off with Sweden in November 2017.

There was some tension, as the Milan fans in the crowd jeered their former player Leonardo Bonucci every time he touched the ball.

It was a bright start from the Azzurri, as Insigne’s scorcher forced a very tricky save from Rui Patricio, Immobile firing the rebound over the bar from a tight angle. Moments later, Alessandro Florenzi’s angled drive whistled wide, while Chiellini charged down a Bruma counter.

The Nazionale dominated possession and held the initiative with short, crisp passes, the best performance seen from the Azzurri for a long time. There were several back-heel flicks playing their way out of defence, but not enough players in the box to finish these moves.

Ruben Neves and Napoli full-back Mario Rui were booked and will be suspended against Poland. Immobile had another huge chance when sent clear by Verratti’s through ball, forcing Rui Patricio to sprint off his line and parry with an outstretched leg, then Bonucci nodded on to the side-netting from a free kick.

Italy had 68 per cent possession in the first half, plus 421 passes to 150, but couldn’t make the dominance count. They continued along this path after the break, Verratti and Biraghi combining to roll across for Chiesa, whose shot was deflected inches wide.

Barella’s well-taken volley was charged down and substitute Joao Mario fired over from 12 yards for Portugal. Udinese centre-forward Kevin Lasagna replaced the ineffective Immobile for the final 15 minutes.

Portugal had their first genuine chance on 76 minutes, as Italy failed to clear their lines and William Carvalho’s daisy-cutter from the edge of the box forced Gianluigi Donnarumma to get down with one strong hand.

Insigne drilled wide from distance, Ruben Neves made a last-ditch tackle to stop Lasagna going clear and Lorenzo Pellegrini's header from a corner was too central. While a similar performance against Poland last month saw Cristiano Biraghi score deep into stoppages, in this case Portugal held on for the point they needed to ensure passage to the Nations League Final Four.

Italy end their experience in the tournament with one win, two draws and a defeat, but only two goals scored and two conceded. This was also their sixth consecutive stalemate on home turf.

Italy 0-0 Portugal

Italy: Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Chiellini, Biraghi; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti (Pellegrini 81); Chiesa (Berardi 87), Immobile (Lasagna 74), Insigne

Portugal: Rui Patricio; Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Fonte, Mario Rui; Pizzi (Joao Mario 67), William Carvalho, Ruben Neves; Bruma (Guerreiro 85), Andre Silva (Danilo 90), Bernardo Silva

Ref: Makkelie (NED)