Silva fires Portugal past Italy

‘RISK FALLING OVER’::Portugal coach Fernando Santos ruled out talk of his side now being the group favorites after Italy’s draw against Poland last week

AFP, LISBON

Wed, Sep 12, 2018 - Page 16

Andre Silva on Monday scored the only goal as European champions Portugal — without superstar Cristiano Ronaldo — got their UEFA Nations League campaign off the mark with a 1-0 win over Italy in Lisbon.

Ronaldo, 33, had been left out of the squad at his own request to focus on his new Italian club Juventus, but the Euro 2016 winners showed no sign of missing their star striker, dominating Italy to secure their first three points in a group that also includes Poland.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini suffered his first competitive setback after being held by Poland 1-1 in their opener on Friday last week in Bologna, with the Azzurri on one point after two games.

“We made too many mistakes, but the lads gave everything,” Mancini said. “We need to find a solution to scoring goals because you don’t win games without scoring. That’s our main problem right now. Portugal have won the first, so they’re the favorites, but I think it’s still wide open, you never know in football.”

Silva scored three minutes into the second half with AC Milan’s on-loan Sevilla striker collecting a Bruma cross to beat his former Milan teammate Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Italy goal.

“I have some friends in the Italian national team, but there are no friends on the pitch,” Silva said. “Overall, we were the better team on the night and deserved the win.”

Mancini had rang the changes with an experimental side with seven new players starting — midfielder Jorginho and Donnarumma the only pair to be retained from the draw with Poland.

In the same 4-3-3 lineup, SS Lazio striker Ciro Immobile came in for Mario Balotelli, who was heavily criticized for his performance against Poland before coming off with a muscle problem.

SPAL’s Manuel Lazzari made his international debut on the right of defense.

Four-time world champions Italy now risk being relegated from their Nations League group after also failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals, but Mancini defended his experimental side.

“We don’t like losing, but it’s also true that we have to take risks and get experience in these games, otherwise it’s hard to move forward quickly,” the former Manchester City and Inter coach said. “We must help the youth grow, as we don’t have alternatives. We would like to finish first in the group, you never know in football. We will see what happens, our starting goal is to qualify for the Euros.”

Portugal coach Fernando Santos ruled out talk of his side now being the favorites.

“Do we have a foot in the final? We need both feet in there, because standing on one foot you risk falling over,” Santos said.