Portugal 1-0 Italy: Portugal cruise to victory in first ever UEFA Nations League match
Portugal beat Italy in a competitive fixture for the first time since 1957 as they earned themselves a narrow but convincing 1-0 win.
Fernando Santos will be very pleased with what he saw from his side, with Portugal dominating for the vast majority of the game, fielding a youthful lineup that was still filled with a wealth of talent.
Bruma, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva made up Portugal’s attacking trio on the night, with an average age of just 23, while Ruben Neves (21), Ruben Dias (21) and Joao Cancelo (24) also started, showing that there was a nod to the future in the lineup opted for by Santos.
The game started as it went on, with Portugal on top, and with just three minutes gone, Ruben Neves whipped in a beautiful cross from deep which was met by William Carvalho, who didn’t get the best of contact onto the ball and put it just wide. The flag went up to save Carvalho’s blushes but it was an excellent start by the Portuguese and set the tempo for the rest of the night.
Both Italy and Portugal had chances around the quarter of an hour mark, but neither really tested the goalkeeper, and it was in the 26th minute that the next significant chance came, with Bruma’s headed effort across the face of the goal only palmed away by Donnarumma; the ball then fell to the feet of Bernardo, whose low, powerful shot was only just saved off line to deny Portugal from taking the lead .
Just three minutes later, Bruma was again invovled in the action, dragging his shot wide as he did only 13 minutes earlier, while Portugal came centimetres from taking the lead in the 31st minute after Mario Rui cut inside and drilled the ball across goal, which cannoned off defender and onto crossbar. Another so near, so far for the hosts.
And Portugal were left frustrated once more 10 minutes before half time, with a huge penalty appeal waves away by the referee. Pizzi, making a run into the box, found himself completely blocked off from completing the move that would have seen him get into a one-on-one opportunity, and was instead thrown to the ground.
Portugal nearly made up for it immediately though, with William Carvalho’s shot from outside box curling just wide of the inside of the post. Portugal therefore had to settle for level terms at the break, a score which did not indicate the one-sided nature of the first half.
Portugal did not have to wait long to get the lead once the second period got underway though, with an excellent run from Bruma, who was a constant nuisance for the Italian defence, allowing Portugal to get on the offensive very quickly. Bruma then passed across face of goal to Andre Silva, who beautifully curled the ball into the bottom corner on the 48th minute, much to the relief of the home fans, who were, while impressed with what they saw, concerned that Portugal would be made to rue their missed chances.
And the one-way traffic continued, with Portugal continued to dominate and have the better chances. Bernardo Silva, for example, cut inside and struck ball on left foot in the 53rd minute, a shot that looked destined for the top corner but for Donnarumma who tipped the ball round post brilliantly to prevent Portugal from doubling their lead.
Portugal had a few half chances over the next 20 minutes, continuing to see the majority of the ball, but failed to really test the Italian keeper. Italy then started to push forward in search of the equaliser, dominating the final 15 minutes of the game with Portugal happy to settle for an unflattering 1-0. Zaza headed over in the 78th from a corner, a powerful strike that may have beaten Patricio were it just a little lower. A scare for Portugal, who nearly saw their deserved lead wiped out.
Ultimately however, Portugal held out with seome resilient defending, and earned the all-important three points in a truly convincing matter, regardless of what the scoreline might suggest.
And the overall display by the home side, against one of the most historic nations in world football, who have always been something of a bogey team for Portugal, will be of immense satisfaction to Selecao fans across the globe, particularly considering that they were playing without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo for the full ninety minutes, who was not called up to the side in order to manage his fitness, while the defensive resilience in the final 15 minutes of the game showed Fernando Santos that Portugal looked solid in both areas of the game.