Portugal v Italy ratings as slippery Silvas light up Lisbon

Matt Jones 11/09/2018
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Portugal got their UEFA Nations League up and running with a 1-0 win over Italy in Lisbon.

Despite the narrow margin of victory it was a commanding performance from the hosts, with Andre Silva’s stylish goal giving Fernando Santos’ side three points.

For Italy and beleaguered coach Roberto Mancini, meanwhile, there’s plenty of work to be done following this defeat and a draw in their opening two games.

Here we rate both sets of players:

 

PORTUGAL (4-3-3)

Bernardo Silva was majestic in victory for Portugal.

Bernardo Silva was majestic in victory for Portugal.

Rui Patricio – 6: Bright and alert to anything Italy threw at him, which was very little.

Joao Cancelo – 7: A constant threat to Italy with his marauding runs down the right. Solid going back, becoming a fine player.

Pepe – 5: Committed as ever as the veteran won his 100th cap. Sharp and alert to repel any Azzurri attacks, but foul on Chiesa late on was crazy, lucky not to see red.

Ruben Dias – 6: A quietly effective night for the 21-year-old, the future of his nation playing alongside the past and present in Pepe.

Mario Rui – 6: Got down the left well to deliver a cross that clipped off Cristante and onto the bar. Lively.

Pizzi – 5: Low drive was eventually smothered at the second attempt by Donnarumma. Unlucky not to win a penalty.

Ruben Neves – 7: Youngster was hugely impressive as he patrolled midfield. Three tackles, clearances and interceptions. Never gave an inch.

William Carvalho – 7: How did he miss his header from Ruben Neves’ delivery? Later saw a rocket fly just wide and was overall a commanding presence in the engine room.

Bernardo Silva – 8: Was a constant menace for the misguided Italians. Turned the screw constantly. Saw goal-bound shot cleared off the line in the first half and only stunning Donnarumma save left him without the goal he deserved.

Andre Silva – 7: Lively from the off, fashioned an opportunity after dummying Lazzari brilliantly. Scored emphatically against the country that employs him. 65.4 per cent pass success was shocking.

Bruma – 7: Finishing was erratic but always looked a danger when in possession. Tenacious running set up the opening goal. The Red Bull Leipzig flyer certainly gave Portugal wings.

SUBS:

Renato Sanches – 6: Nearly got a goal minutes after appearing, forcing a fine low stop from Donnarumma. Didn’t misplace a pass.

Gelson Martins N/A: Only six touches in his 12 minutes.

Sergio Oliveira N/A: No time to make an impact.

ITALY (4-4-2)

Gianluigi Donnarumma was a busy man for Italy.

Gianluigi Donnarumma was a busy man for Italy.

Gianluigi Donnarumma – 8: Stunning save from Bernardo Silva kept the scoreline at 1-0. Kept things respectable. Save from Sanches late on was excellent.

Manuel Lazzari – 4: Jointly led his side with four tackles. Given a torrid time by the marauding Bruma.

Mattia Caldara – 3: Perhaps lucky not to concede a penalty when he clipped Pizzi. Gave away the ball with alarming ease.

Alessio Romagnoli – 4: On hand to clear off the line in the first half from Bernardo Silva. One of three clearances. Struggled to get to grips with the slippery Silvas.

Domenico Criscito – 5: Had pocket picked by Bruma leading up to the goal. Made himself busy in both attack and defence.

Federico Chiesa – 7: Livewire tried everything he could to spark his side. Showed good strength to outmuscle a defender for an early sighter. Silky skills and composure led to a shot on target minutes later. Was everywhere.

Bryan Cristante – 6: His 93.9 per cent pass success not only led Italy, but any player on the pitch bar late sub Sanches, who only made six.

Jorginho – 6: A busy night for the Chelsea enforcer, leading Italy with six interceptions and making three tackles. Overworked.

Giacomo Bonaventura – 6: Dangerous from set-pieces and one of Italy’s better performers – there weren’t many however. Embarked on three dribbles and led Italy with two key passes.

Simone Zaza – 5: Generally, a threat throughout, but lack of quality showed. Headed over from a corner, one of Italy’s best chances.

Ciro Immobile – 3: One touch in Portugal’s penalty area in the opening 35 minutes as the Inter Milan man cut an isolated figure up front. Subbed before the hour.

SUBS:

Domenico Berardi – 6: Replaced the ineffective Immobile just before the hour. Tried to affect the game but lack of ideas from team-mates didn’t assist.

Emerson – 6: Came on and whipped in four crosses, while making two interceptions. Not his or Italy’s night.

Andrea Belotti N/A: Hardly had a touch after coming on in the dying embers of the game.

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Watch: Joachim Low says Germany's World Cup disappointment is starting to dissipate

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After beating Peru in the Nations League, Germany are beginning to move past their woeful showing at the World Cup this summer, according to boss Joachim Low.

Germany beat Peru 2-1 on Sunday to help alleviate some of the pain felt from their exit at the group stages in Russia months earlier.

“This World Cup disappointment is also starting to eradicate and be forgotten somehow now,” Low said.

See what else Low had the say in the video below.

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An enriching new era for Spain and other talking points ahead of Croatia clash

Matt Jones 10/09/2018
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Croatia begin their UEFA Nations League voyage on Tuesday as they travel to Elche to take on the sublime talents of Spain.

Luis Enrique’s side are on a high after the former Barcelona manager’s reign got off to a bright start with a 2-1 win at Wembley over England on Saturday.

Zlatko Dalic’s side, meanwhile, are back in competitive action after a superb summer saw them reach the World Cup final, where they were beaten 4-2 by France.

Ahead of what should be a fascinating encounter, we look at three talking points:

ENRIQUE ERA ENRICHES SPAIN

Luis Enrique won his first game in charge of Spain.

Luis Enrique won his first game in charge of Spain.

It would probably be a bit much to say the beginning of the Enrique reign placed a band aid over Spain’s gaping World Cup wound, but it definitely started the healing process.

And it’s certainly a good idea to get the Spanish media back onside, with La Roja’s performance at Wembley having the Spanish press practically salivating at the prospect of a nation getting back to their best – the country that won the 2010 World Cup and back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

“This is the new Spain”, hailed the country’s top sports daily Marca while Diario AS commented: “A triumph that opens the Nations League and closes the nightmare of the World Cup”.

An embarrassing World Cup bookended a disastrous six-year period since Spain were crowned Euro 2012 champions.

At the 2014 World Cup they endured a humiliating group stage exit, failing to recover from a 5-1 hammering at the hands of the Dutch in their opening game. Two years later in defence of their European crown they won just once as they were dumped out by limited Italy in the last 16. Now they are rebuilding following a timid exit in Russia, failing to recover from a tumultuous start to the tournament when Julen Lopetegui’s leaked move to Real Madrid was deemed an unforgiveable sin and he was jettisoned before a ball had been kicked.

But they still have the individual talent – across the board they arguably possess the most talented squad in international football. Saul Niguez, the Atletico Madrid midfielder who didn’t play a single minute at the World Cup, embodies the new approach: tenacious, direct and supremely skilful.

Spain just needed a solid structure to be established and a confident and experienced coach to get them back on track. In Enrique, they appear to have that.

ARE CROATIA NOW AN ELITE NATION?

England v Croatia: Semi Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

In quite stark contrast, Croatia enjoyed a stunning World Cup.

Dalic’s side were the darlings of Russia, with Luka Modric and Co finally able to eclipse the ‘Golden Generation’ who had made such an impression as a fledgling nation back at France ’98.

As La Roja buckled under the strain of the Lopetegui scandal and a host of star names underperformed – Croatia rose to every considerable challenge placed before them.

From Nikola Kalinic being sent home from after refusing to go on as a substitute in their opening 2-0 win against Nigeria, the Vatreni then had to go the distance in their three knockout games leading up to the final.

They twice had to show their mental fortitude in penalty shootout wins over Denmark and Russia – the former seeing captain Modric missing a spot kick to win it in extra time before burying his penalty in the shootout.

They fell heartbreaking at the final hurdle as star-studded France proved a step too far. So where do they go now? Establishing themselves as a truly elite force must be the target.

With a cast that boasts some of Europe’s top talents – Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, as well as Mario Mandzukic, Mateo Kovacic, Sime Vrsaljko, Marcelo Brozovic and Marco Pjaca – they have to strive for stardom.

Their Russia heroics saw them vault up to fourth from 17th in the FIFA world rankings. That assisted in them being placed in the top-tier League A of the Nations League. Success in this fledgling competition and even at Euro 2020 should be the height of their ambitions.

MODRIC MAGIC CAN CONJURE BALLON D’OR

LukaModric

Modric’s quest for individual recognition on the global stage can ensure Croatia’s standards don’t drop following their fantastic showing at the World Cup finals.

The Madrid magician was the life and soul of his nation in Russia – scoring twice in the group stages and netting crucial penalties in shootout victories over Denmark and Russia.

More than that, he carried the creative and leadership burden, while fellow high-profile midfielder Rakitic actually seemed to struggle with being thrust into the limelight – he is able to operate more from the shadows at Barcelona where clubmates Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho attract more of the column inches.

It’s somewhat the same for 5ft 8in midfielder Modric at Madrid, yet the diminutive dynamo seemed to grow in stature with each game. Hungry for more responsibility and pressure.

His exploits, plus a fine domestic season during 2017/18 – ne notched six assists in La Liga (a joint high since arriving in Spain) – have led to increasing belief that he can challenge for the Balon d’Or and help break the duopoly Messi and Cristaino Ronaldo have held over the trophy for the past decade.

Mohamed Salah will have something to say about that too as Liverpool’s explosive Egyptian will also be in the running to upstage Ronaldo and Messi.

But more magic from Modric in the Nations League – starting with orchestrating an eye-catching triumph over Spain – will add to his cause and the feeling that he could conjure the impossible, toppling the game’s mighty duo.

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