Antonio Conte suffered his first defeat on the Italy bench, falling 1-0 to Portugal in a friendly that damages FIFA ranking.
The Azzurri continued experimenting the 4-3-3 system, but above all needed a victory in this Geneva friendly to secure a place as seeds in the draw for 2018 World Cup qualifiers. There were numerous injuries and absentees on both sides, including Gigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti and Simone Zaza. Cristiano Ronaldo was not involved, causing the Portuguese Federation to pay a €400,000 penalty to Swiss organisers of this friendly.
Italy had faced Portugal 24 times with 18 Azzurri wins, two draws and four Selecao successes, but since 1976 that record was 10 victories and a stalemate.
Andrea Pirlo’s free kick tested Beto and a Vieirinha sliding tackle was decisive on Antonio Candreva, while Ciro Immobile was closed down by the goalkeeper on a Pirlo chipped pass. Pirlo’s free kick was also deflected for a corner.
A smart Candreva through ball for Stephan El Shaarawy was intercepted, but on the follow-up Andrea Bertolacci blasted just wide.
Bad news for Portugal and Real Madrid, as Fabio Coentrao pulled up with a hamstring injury and had to be replaced.
El Shaarawy’s wonderful right-foot curler was inches past the far post, while Portugal’s first chance saw Eder just fail to get his outstretched leg to a cross from Parma’s Silvestre Varela.
Salvatore Sirigu failed to control a backpass and lost possession to Eder, but Andrea Ranocchia scrambled back to clear Varela’s attempt off the line of an empty net. Inter captain Ranocchia almost ruined that good work soon after, his misplaced pass straight to Joao Moutinho, but this time Sirigu was able to smother the shot.
After the restart, Sampdoria midfielder Roberto Soriano skimmed the bar. However, Leonardo Bonucci got his head to a Pirlo free kick and smacked it against the near post on 49 minutes. Darmian was unable to tap in the follow-up.
Moments later, Portugal broke the deadlock. Eliseu dribbled past two in midfield and sent Quaresma down the left, where his cross sailed past Bonucci for Ederzinho to volley under the bar. It was his first senior goal for the Selecao.
Conte changed Italy to a new 4-2-4 system with the introduction of Palermo’s Franco Vazquez. More disastrous defending almost handed Portugal a second goal, but Joao Moutinho tried to go for it rather than pass to Quaresma and the chance went begging.
Matteo Darmian turned well in the penalty area only for his shot to flash across the face of goal. Sassuolo striker Nicola Sansone was given his senior Italy debut.
The Azzurri continued to misplace passes with disconcerting regularity. Quaresma’s free kick and a Manolo Gabbiadini header were off target, but Portugal were largely comfortable in the closing stages and Ederzinho’s overhead kick was shinned wide.
Gabbiadini finally got a great chance in the final minute, his scorching strike palmed round the post by Beto.
Alessandro Matri was wasteful in stoppages, hitting the side-netting when Sansone was begging for the tap-in from six yards, having moved in front of his marker. Beto fingertipped a Vazquez strike over the bar and with the last kick of the game Ranocchia turned wide from the corner.
Scorers: Ederzinho 53 (P)
Italy: Sirigu; Darmian, Ranocchia, Bonucci, De Sciglio (Pasqual 73); Soriano (Vazquez 58), Pirlo, Bertolacci (Parolo 76); Candreva (Gabbiadini 64), Immobile (Matri 73), El Shaarawy (Sansone 67)
Portugal: Beto; Vieirinha (Cedric 46), Bruno Alves (Carrico 58), Jose Fonte, Fabio Coentrao (Eliseu 24); Joao Moutinho, Danilo Pereira, Tiago (Adrien Silva 46); Ricardo Quaresma (Pizzi 86), Ederzinho, Varela (Nani 46)
Ref: Studer (SWI)
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