Portugal Beat Italy 1-0 in UEFA Nations League Without Cristiano Ronaldo

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2018

(L-R) Manuel Lazzari of Italy, Mario Rui of Portugal, Federico Chiesa of Italy during the UEFA Nations League A group 3 qualifying match between Portugal and Italy at Estadio La Luz on September 10, 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

Portugal started their UEFA Nations League campaign in victorious fashion on Monday and beat Italy 1-0 at the Estadio da Luz to climb to the top of Group 3 in League A.  

Cristiano Ronaldo was missing for the reigning European champions, but Andre Silva delivered early in the second half to separate the two sides and give Portugal victory in their Nations League debut.

As a result, Italy now sit bottom of Group 3 on goal difference while Poland move down to second, and coach Fernando Santos can look forward to having his star man back for the next batch of Nations League fixtures.

         

Portugal's Lack of Quality Depth Behind Ronaldo Will Lead to Euro 2020 Qualification Struggles 

Portugal manager Fernando Santos made the decision to rest Ronaldo during this international break following the player's summer move to Juventus, and many of the signs were positive during his absence.

Andre Silva spearheaded a three-man attack flanked by Bruma and Bernardo Silva, who all showed plenty of endeavour and were for the most part the dominant attack, but one thing was sorely missing: reliable finishing.

It's long been suggested that Ronaldo is the only true source of such a commodity in the Portugal camp. What's more, those left starting in his absence on Monday didn't do enough early on to convince sportswriter Peter Galindo they had the urgency to fill the void:

Manchester City star Silva could have made it 1-0 were he more confident on his right boot or had he managed to convert into a practically open goal, having had two great opportunities to make the first dent himself.

Portuguese football expert Tom Kundert alluded to Ronaldo's missing influence after an inaccurate first half:

The opening 45 minutes produced seven shots for Portugal, per WhoScored.com, three of which failed to find the target and two of which were blocked. It spoke volumes that defensive midfielder William Carvalho had one of the best chances with an effort from range.

Fortunately for them, striker Andre Silva found his shooting boots at half-time and quickly put them to work early on after the restart. The Sevilla frontman, on loan from AC Milan, steadied himself in the box to convert amid a pile of Italian bodies, via Sky Football (UK only):

Of course no team is expected to have multiple players of Ronaldo's quality, but one would think Santos' contingencies for playing without Ronaldo—either through personnel or tactics—would be more adept after four years in the job.

The hosts had drawn their previous four consecutive games played without Ronaldo, scoring four goals in those matches. Of those four goals, two came from defenders (Pepe, Vitorino Antunes) and only one from a forward (Andre Silva vs. Tunisia).

Portugal must capitalise on Ronaldo now more than ever as he prepares to turn 34 in February and with Euro 2020 looking likely to be his last major international tournament. However, the team may not be on hand to defend their European crown at all unless they can become more accomplished at scoring without their talisman.

        

Mancini's Odd Choices Threaten Italy's Rebuild

It's been almost four months since Roberto Mancini was named as the new head of Italy's national team, and some fans may feel concern at the steps being taken by the coach given how much time he's now been in the role.

Among the selections that raised most eyebrows was the decision to field striker Simone Zaza in a wide role. While Federico Chiesa made perfect sense on one wing, it just didn't seems appropriate to field the Torino frontman on the other considering the other options available to Mancini:

There was no disputing that Monday's performance largely underwhelmed. Per WhoScored.com, Italy were out-shot, out-passed and had a little more than 40 percent possession in Lisbon.

Former Manchester City, Inter Milan and Lazio boss Mancini has come into the Azzurri role hoping to breathe new life into a team with plenty of potential, but again there were signs that any progress is going to be slow:

That wasn't to say there weren't positives to be had, but even those bright sparks came with the caveated question as to whether now was the right time to experiment.

For example, blooding Mattia Caldara, 24, and Alessio Romagnoli, 23, at centre-back is smart, but perhaps not together when the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci could provide some vital nous.

Journalist David Amoyal agreed there's great promise in the side before kick-off and testified to the amount of young talent emerging:

Some might have also disagreed with Mancini's decision to bring wide man Domenico Berardi on for striker Immobile as his first substitute, while Andrea Belotti might have been introduced sooner than the 80th minute.

The Italy chief's latest examination saw his side fail to make the most of Ronaldo's absence as they didn't manage to trouble Portugal's defence as much as they should, with the manager's setup largely responsible.

         

What's Next?

Both teams will be back in action next month, with Italy next set to face Ukraine in a friendly on October 10, the day before Portugal will take on Poland away from home in their next Nations League test.

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