Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the UEFA Nations League
clash between Portugal
at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon. The reigning European champions kick off their Group A3 campaign in Lisbon this evening, aiming to bounce back from what was a pretty underwhelming World Cup showing that ended with defeat to Uruguay in the first knockout round.
The visitors are in a far bigger slump after missing out on their first World Cup in 60 years, meanwhile, and their UEFA Nations League campaign did not exactly get off to a flying start last week, as they were held to a 1-1 draw on home soil by Poland. This is one of the tougher groups to finish top of, but that is very much the target for Roberto Mancini
in his first managerial job at international level.
ITALY TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Donnarumma; Lazzari, Caldara, Romagnoli, Criscito; Cristante, Jorginho, Bonaventura; Zaza, Immobile, Chiesa
SUBS: Sirigu, Perin, Emerson, Chiellini, Belotti, Insigne, Berardi, Benassi, Gagliardini, Bonucci, Bernardeschi, Barella
Let us get straight into things by checking out the visiting team, which shows nine changes from the flat 1-1 draw with Poland in Mancini's first competitive match in charge. Gianluigi Donnarumma
and Jorginho are the only two men to retain their places in the side, which pretty much says it all as far as the Azzurri are concerned. It means that AC Milan duo Mattia Caldara and Alessio Romagnoli line up together at senior level for the first time ever.
Manuel Lazzari was called up to the Italy senior side for the first time last week and is thrown straight into the mix here, starting at left-back, on the opposite side to the more experienced Domenico Criscito. That is assuming Mancini is going to go with a 4-3-3 formation, which UEFA have this down as, meaning that Bryan Cristante and Giacomo Bonaventura will partner Jorginho in the middle.
This could easily be a 4-4-2 formation, though, which would mean Federico Chiesa and Bonaventura in the wide positions - more on that when the game gets under way. It emerged earlier today that Mario Balotelli had been cut from the squad, a few days on from being booed in the Azzurri's 1-1 draw with Poland when putting in a pretty poor shift, and Italy's forward line has a new look to it here. Chiesa and Simone Zaza are expected to flank Ciro Immobile.
PORTUGAL TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Patricio; Cancelo, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Mario Rui; Pizzi, Ruben Neves, William Carvalho; Bruma, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva
SUBS: Ramos, Beto, Neto, Mendes, Sanches, Oliveira, Bruno Fernandes, Guedes, Gelson Martins, Cedric, Gedson Fernandes
Portugal boss Fernando Santos
revealed in his pre-match press conference that he intended to stick with the same side that played out a 1-1 draw with Croatia last week, but he has had to contend with some injury issues. Raphael Guerreiro has pulled out of the squad due to a minor problem, as has Rony Lopes, who reports in the Portuguese media suggest was in line to come into the starting fold tonight.
It is probably also worth pointing out around about now that there is no Cristiano Ronaldo for the hosts tonight, as we already knew, with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner being excused from the squad so that he can focus on his club football with Juventus. That gives others a chance to step up, namely Andre Silva who is will lead the line tonight in search of his 13th goal in what will be his 28th cap for the Selecao.
Silva has three in three for Sevilla since joining from AC Milan, albeit each of those coming in one match against Rayo Vallecano last month, so he will be confident of pushing on this evening and making the most of his chance to lead the line. RB Leipzig ace Bruma and Manchester City's Bernardo Silva are just as talented and will provide support from out wide, in what is expected to be a 4-3-3 setup.
There are plenty of new faces in Portugal's squad for this first international break of the season, more on which later, but Santos is clearly prioritising stability as changes are kept to a minimum from that last outing at home to Croatia. Rui Patricio again starts in goal, while veteran centre-back Pepe has a new partner alongside him in Benfica youngster Rui Dias. Further forward, another Wolverhampton Wanderers player in Ruben Never retains his spot in midfield.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! This is the first competitive meeting between these two heavyweight nations in a quarter of a century, having last faced off for a spot in the 1994 World Cup. Italy won 1-0 at home after claiming a 3-1 triumph nine months beforehand to qualify at their opponents' expense. The Selecao did win the most recent encounter, though - a 1-0 friendly win in Geneva three years ago; Eder scoring the game's only goal 10 minutes into the second half.
That was Portugal's only win in their last 11 meetings with Italy, and they have actually lost 18 of the previous 24. Since the turn of the millennium, they have lost four and won one, conceding eight and scoring three in the process. In fact, Italy have won 72% of matches against Portugal, making it the best ratio of any team they have faced on 14 occasions or more.
Portugal are ranked seventh in the world and are still the reigning European champions. This is the start of a new campaign for them; one that Fernando Santos
no doubt will hope ends with him lifting the famous trophy for a second time, four years after triumphing - somewhat against the odds - in France. The Selecao were not among the favourites to go all the way at Euro 2016, but led by Cristiano Ronaldo they did what was required to win the whole thing.
Santos's men initially pushed on from that success by winning nine of their 10 qualifying fixtures for the World Cup. A narrow loss to Switzerland in their opener ensured that the qualifying process would go right down to the wire, but they saw off the same opponents in the final round of fixtures and deservedly booked their place in Russia. At the finals themselves, they came through a tricky group before suffering a first knockout-round exit.
A 3-3 draw against Spain, best remembered for Cristiano Ronaldo's heroics, was followed up by a slender 1-0 win over Morocco - that man again was key to victory - before being held to a 1-1 draw by a determined Iranian side. Portugal could easily have topped Group B, setting up a favourable tie against Russia in the last 16, but instead they had a tricky assignment against Uruguay and lost 2-1.
Edinson Cavani netted a goal either side of Pepe's second-half leveller to knock the Portuguese out, ending their campaign a little earlier than many predicted. Santos has stayed in charge for another crack at the Euros, and the target now is to retain to trophy - or at the very least put up a strong effort in doing so. The UEFA Nations League offers a backdoor route into the competition, though Portugal surely will not need it.
That all depends on the draw, of course, but being top seeds the Selecao will almost certainly finish in the top two. If not, and if they are not among the best third-placed sides, they will need to rely on this competition. Portugal also have Poland to face home and away, as well as a trip to Italy for the return fixture, so there are some tough matches in store for Santos. This competition has some drawbacks, but its competitive nature cannot be questioned.
Portugal also have a friendly with Scotland pencilled in for next month, giving Santos another opportunity to experiment with his side - with or without star man Cristiano Ronaldo. The European champs played out a 1-1 draw with World Cup finalists Croatia in the Algarve last week; Pepe again on the scoresheet as he cancelled out Ivan Perisic's opener, leaving the Portuguese winless in three matches.
Going further back, it is just two wins in eight matches for Portugal since the tail end of March. Santos certainly had to shake things up slightly, and the absence of Ronaldo for these two fixtures could be a blessing in disguise. Being without arguably the world's best player is never a good thing, of course, but Portugal have a whole array of young talents who need time to adjust to senior level.
Gedson Fernandes has impressed for Benfica and may get a run-out from the bench tonight, for example, while Sergio Oliveira, Claudio Ramos and Pedro Mendes have also earned their first senior call-ups. This is very much a case of evolution and not revolution for the Selecao, who remain one of the strongest sides on the continent even when accounting for their early World Cup exit.
Italy head into this match at 21st in the latest FIFA world rankings - their lowest position ever after a dreadful World Cup qualifying campaign. It was the first time in 60 years that the Azzurri missed out on a place in the greatest competition of them all, as they missed out on top spot in their group and then lost 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden in the playoffs. The finger was pointed at many people, but the buck ultimately stopped at boss Giampiero Ventura.
The four-time world champions failed to break down Sweden over 120 minutes, meaning that Jakob Johansson's first-leg goal was the difference between the sides. Ventura was dismissed soon after, and in come Roberto Mancini
for his first managerial job at international level. Capped 36 times for his country during his playing days, Mancini boasts plenty of experience over the continent with Galatasaray, Zenit St Petersburg and Manchester City, among other sides.
Mancini, who led Man City to their first top-flight title in 44 years, has been handed a two-year deal by Italian football chiefs, seeing him through until the end of Euro 2020. Qualifying for that competition is Mancini's initial task, but that alone will surely not be enough. The Azzurri may be at their lowest point in a number of years, though this squad is still packed with some hugely talented footballers.
Italy beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 shortly after Mancini's appointment, but they have since lost 3-1 to France and drawn with both the Netherlands and Poland. It leaves them with a record of one win in their last eight outings - coming against the Saudis in St Gallen four months ago - and in serious need of a lift. The bad post-World Cup taste was not exactly alleviated with their stalemate against Poland last time out.
A Jorginho penalty 12 minutes from time was required in Bologna to rescue the Azzurri a point after Piotr Zielinski opened the scoring for Poland. Mancini went with a 4-3-3 formation for that match and, despite the stale performance produced by his side, he sticks with that setup - we believe - for tonight's match. That said, nine of the 11 players who started against Poland have made way.
Italy's attack in particular looked uninspiring against the Poles, explaining why Mancini has completely revamped his attacking lineup tonight. Donnarumma is now considered the Azzurri's number one for many years to come, so he retains his spot in goal, while midfielder Jorginho is the only outfield player to remain from last week's draw. Even before Mancini named his side, you could argue that those two players are the only guaranteed starters.
The visitors also take on the United States and Ukraine in friendlies before the end of the year, on top of a trip to Poland and home match against Portugal to conclude their UEFA Nations League campaign, so Mancini will likely have a better idea of his preferred XI come next spring. The Azzurri are far from guaranteed to finish in the top two of their qualifying group, as they learned the hard way earlier this year, so they have to take the Nations League seriously.
With kickoff at the Estadio da Luz now less than five minutes away, let us check out some pre-match thoughts from both camps.
Fernando Santos: "Italy have enormous desire to show their value, having failed to qualify for the World Cup. Just because they were not present at the World Cup does not alter their history. This game is part of a new competition and naturally takes on another level of importance. It's hard to talk about favourites in games at this level, they are difficult for any of the teams."
Roberto Mancini: "They won the last European Cup. They are stronger when Ronaldo is playing. But even without Ronaldo the team is very good with lot of technical players. When Ronaldo will not play football anymore, I hope as far as possible for him, Portugal will try to do something different and this is a good chance for them. But they are still a great team, even without Ronaldo."
Santos has essentially warned his players not to underestimate Italy, who will be hungry to bounce back after missing out on a place in the World Cup this summer. The experienced boss also claimed that it is difficult to pick a favourite in this fixture, but the Selecao - even without Cristiano Ronaldo - are European champions and will surely consider anything less than victory today a disappointment. Mancini, meanwhile, is wary of the hosts' "technical players" - there are certainly plenty of them!
KICKOFF: Following a short ceremony to acknowledge Pepe's 100 caps for Portugal - now 101 - we are officially up and running in Lisbon. Portugal are unchanged from their 1-1 draw with Croatia last week, while Italy show nine changes from their meeting against Poland.
Around 40,000 are expected inside this impressive ground tonight, meaning a good atmosphere in what is, remember, a competitive fixture. Portugal are seeing plenty of the ball in the early exchanges, slowly trying to move it forward.
A promising moment for Italy as Chiesa got in behind down the right but could not quite get a cross away. Plenty of fresh legs in that Azzurri side tonight, which they will look to make the most of as this match transpires.
The corner kick is played short to Ruben Neves, who sends in a delightful cross for William Carvalho. The midfielder somehow failed to guide the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma, but the offside flag was raised to spare his blushes.
It is looking more like a 4-4-2 formation for Portugal, incidentally, rather than the advertised 4-3-3. The hosts are looking far more comfortable than their opponents and have just won themselves another corner, which is this time headed clear.
The Azzurri have not really offered much of anything in an attacking sense thus far. Portugal asking all the early questions, although their only chance - a close-range header for William Carvalho early on - was offside.
Italy manage to venture forward down the left through Ciro Immobile and win themselves a first corner. Simone Zaza got his head to the ball first towards the near post, but he could only direct it over the opposition crossbar. Half a chance.
The visiting side are doing well to keep things tight at the moment, and they also enjoyed that rare foray forward a couple of minutes ago. Nothing in terms of clear-cut chances at either end of the field so far in Lisbon.
SAVE! Some good play from Italy leads to Federico Chiesa cutting inside on the edge of the box and firing a well-struck shot right down the throat of Rui Patricio - the game's first on-target effort. Up the other end, Portugal failed to make the most of some sloppy Italian defending in the box.
The match has livened up over the past few minutes. Italy managed to get a shot on target through Chiesa, but Portugal should have done better when a sloppy pass was pounced on - they over-complicated things in the opposition box.
Nearly a quarter of the match now played in Lisbon and one of the big themes so far has been the number of stray passes from both sides. It has been a lively enough clash so far, however, and one that remains evenly balanced at this point.
SAVE! Caldara gives the ball away and Andre Silva looks to make the most of his first sight of goal. The forward cut inside his man but could only fire the ball right at Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Italy goal.
I make that one shot on target apiece, with both efforts pretty straightforward for the goalkeepers to deal with. Portugal have been the better side on the whole, but Italy have also looked lively at times in this UEFA Nations League clash.
OFF THE LINE! Portugal closing in on an opener now in front of their supporters, as another chance comes and goes. Gianluigi Donnarumma is left in no man's land when failing to collect a cross, but Bernardo Silva could not beat Alessio Romagnoli on the line.
Italy a tad fortunate to still be on level terms, but they are starting to give as good as they get. Lazzari with a powerful run down the flank which came to little in the end. Half an hour played and still nothing to separate the sides here.
OFF THE BAR! Mario Rui causes all sorts of problems in the Italy box. The Napoli full-back fired a cross away, which hit Bryan Cristante on the leg and deflected onto the crossbar. The Azzurri are really starting to ride their luck now at the Estadio da Luz.
PENALTY APPEAL! Yet another nearly moment for Portugal - there have been plenty of those in this first half - as Bruma smashes the ball back through the box when picked out towards the back post. A pen shout then rejected when Criscito fouled Pizzi.
CLOSE! Not quite sure how this one is still all square. Portugal again come within inches of scoring, this time through a long-range drive from William Carvalho. The midfielder's shot may even have skimmed the post on its way through.
Italy have been pegged further and further back over the last 10 minutes and could do with half time around about now. Fernando Santos will be concerned that his side are still being held, despite constantly knocking on the door.
Half time is now six minutes away and there is no doubt that Italy will be the happier of the two sides to hear the whistle when it sounds. Italy win themselves a corner, which Bonaventura can only bend into the arms of Rui Patricio.
A reminder that Portugal have had a strong penalty shout rejected, hit the crossbar, skimmed the post and had a shot stopped on the line in this first half. The hosts have been the better team but have been unable to get the ball in the net.
SAVE! Rui Patricio has to be alert, as Jorginho volleys the ball down the middle. It took a couple of touches on its way through to make it awkward for the Portugal goalkeeper. Criscito is booked for for hauling back William Carvalho.
YELLOW CARD! Seconds after Criscito entered the referee's book for hauling back Carvalho, Ruben Neves was penalised for preventing Simone Zaza from charging clear. The match certainly has a bit of an edge to it as we enter added time in Lisbon.
HALF TIME: PORTUGAL 0-0 ITALY
Scottish referee Willie Collum signals the end of the first half. Portugal had the better of the chances in the opening 45 minutes, most notably hitting the crossbar, but Italy did well in the final five minutes of the half and this one is turning into a decent contest.
Italy were criticised on the back of their 1-1 draw against Poland in their opening match in this competition, and their first-half showing here offered few positives for new boss Mancini. A deflected Jorginho volley and a long-range drive from Federico Chiesa aside, the Azzurri spent most of the opening 45 minutes attempting to keep out the opposition.
In the absence of the rested Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva led the line and had an early effort kept out by Gianluigi Donnarumma - one of the two surviving members from last time out, along with Jorginho. Alessio Romagnoli was then in the right place at the right time to block Bernardo Silva's shot on the line after Donnarumma flapped at Bruma's cross.
Further openings would fall the Selecao's way, but William Carvalho skimmed the post with his shot and Mario Rui's cross deflected off Bryan Cristante and hit the top of the crossbar. Portugal also had a penalty appeal rejected by Scottish referee Willie Collum after Domenico Criscito fouled Pizzi inside the box. We are therefore all square at the midway point.
PORTUGAL SUBS: Ramos, Beto, Neto, Mendes, Sanches, Oliveira, Bruno Fernandes, Guedes, Gelson Martins, Cedric, Gedson Fernandes
ITALY SUBS: Sirigu, Perin, Emerson, Chiellini, Belotti, Insigne, Berardi, Benassi, Gagliardini, Bonucci, Bernardeschi, Barella
KICKOFF: Another interesting stat from Opta as we get back under way here: Italy made 167 passes in the first half against Portugal - the last time the Azzurri had less was back in October 2016 against Spain. An improvement is needed in the next 45.
GOAL! PORTUGAL 1-0 ITALY (ANDRE SILVA)
they deserved a goal in the first half, and it has taken just a few minutes of the second half for Portugal to finally get off the mark in Lisbon. Bruma led the counter and picked out Andre Silva, who had time to control the ball and then curl it out of Donnarumma's reach.
Italy now have to show more attacking intent, having lasted just three minutes of the second half before conceding. Portugal have deserved that opener and will now feel confident of going on to net a second and possibly third.
That is now 12 international goals in 28 outings for Andre Silva - not a bad return at all. Many were surprised that he was not used more often alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Cup finals, and he is now eager to make himself undroppable.
Italy trailed to Poland last week before battling back to earn a 1-1 draw - a result they would take if offered right now. Mancini will surely consider turning to his bench shortly, as his side have offered little since going behind.
SAVE! Superb save from Gianluigi Donnarumma to keep out Bernardo Silva's angled drive. The ball was heading towards the top corner prior to the intervention from the Italian youngster, who has just keep his side in the match with that stop.
A nice reverse pass gives the Portuguese defence a little something to think about. The ball goes out for a corner, from which Rui Patricio once again comes out to collect in an assured manner. Italy are not out of this tie just yet.
ITALY SUB! An hour played in Lisbon and Mancini has made his first change of the evening, bringing on Sassuolo's Domenico Berardi for Ciro Immobile in attack. Federico Chiesa was cautioned just before the substitution.
The second half has been pretty quiet either side of Silva's goal. The onus is on Italy to get a goal, but they have lacked the end product all evening. Portugal may require a second to put the game to bed.
Just the two shots of any note in this second period - Andre Silva's attempt that Gianluigi Donnarumma could do nothing about, and Bernardo Silva's angled drive that the Italy stopper was equal to. Hopefully it sparks back into life soon!
Just no creativity at all from Italy at the moment, which remains a worry for Mancini. The recently-appointed boss must surely be considering a second change for the final 20 minutes. Opposite number Santos, too, could do with freshening things up.
Portugal ceding possession all too easily since edging in front. Rather than pushing on after Andre Silva opened the scoring, they are now sitting back a little. Italy could well snatch something from this UEFA Nations League clash.
SAVE! Portugal look lively when they do get numbers forward, but we have no seen enough of it in this second half. Pizzo carries the ball forward and gets a low shot on target that Gianluigi Donnarumma is once again equal to.
The Selecao are continuing to edge the possession - 54% to 46% - but are not doing a great deal with it. It has been a quiet second half in Lisbon, and the home side are moving ever closer to a pretty straightforward victory.
SUBS! I was wondering when Santos would turn to his bench, and that question has now been answered - Renato Sanches, whose career has badly stagnated, is on for Pizzi. Mancini brings on Emerson for Domenico Criscito.
It has been a very straightforward evening for Portugal on the whole, yet it remains 1-0 and the points are not in the bag just yet. The Selecao look the more likely to score a second, with 13 minutes left to play at the Estadio da Luz.
PORTUGAL SUB! The hosts are guilty of overdoing it in this second half, almost attempting to walk the ball into the net. It has not paid off, and they are at risk of dropping two points for as long as it remains just 1-0. Gelson Martins is now on for Bruma.
Less than 10 minutes left to play in Lisbon and there is no change to the flow of the game. Italy have been pretty poor on the whole, especially since going a goal behind. They have lacked any sort of impetus in the second 45 minutes.
CHANCE! A decent opportunity for Simone Zaza, who could only head over the crossbar when picked out in the middle. That just goes to show that Portugal are still not over the line just yet, despite looking so comfortable. Andrea Belotti is introduced for Cristante.
PORTUGAL SUB! Italy are really starting to push Portugal back now, and the home fans are audibly a little concerned as they urge their players to get further up the pitch. Santos has also responded by bringing on Sergio Oliveira for Bernardo Silva.
SAVE! Gianluigi Donnarumma has been Italy's best performer tonight, pulling off another good save - this time with his legs - to thwart Renato Sanches down low. It was actually Carvalho who went off for Oliveira, not Bernardo, as he is carrying a knock.
Just one win in nine matches for Italy if they fail to net in the remaining few minutes. Andre Silva's strike is looking increasingly like being the matchwinner, unless the Azzurri can dig deep in added time here.
We have played the first of four added-on minutes in Lisbon. Portugal have dominated the match overall, without really reaching top gear, and you have to say that they are deserving winners as things stand.
It has been a pretty disappointing second half on the whole, with just a few on-target attempts - one of which led to the game's only goal. Italy have had their fair share of corners, but this latest one was headed well clear by Pepe.
FULL TIME: PORTUGAL 1-0 ITALY
Willie Collum blows his whistle to bring this UEFA Nations League clash to an end. It may only have been a one-goal margin of victory for Portugal, but they were never really put under any sort of pressure and it was a fairly comfortable night for Fernando Santos's men in the end. The Selecao climb to the top of Group A3, two points in front of their opponents.
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events from the Estadio da Luz. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, while a recap of the night's other scores can be found here
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