Football

Mancini emphasising on rejuvenation even if it means relegation

Italy coach Mancini maintains that his objective is to build a squad for Euro 2020

Italy coach Roberto Mancini made nine changes to his starting line-up and lost 1-0 to Portugal yesterday morning (Singapore time).

But he insisted that their objective is to build a squad for Euro 2020, even if that comes at the price of relegation from League A, the top tier of the Uefa Nations League.

The Azzurri were without forward Mario Balotelli, who was taken off in last week's 1-1 draw with Poland due to fitness issues. The Nice striker watched the match in Lisbon from the stands as the hosts, who rested Cristiano Ronaldo, clinched victory through Andre Silva.

The 22-year-old forward scored three minutes after half-time in the League A, Group 3 match to give the Portuguese their first win over Italy in a competitive match since 1957.

"Portugal won their first game, so that makes them the favourites to take the group, but it's all still open," said Mancini at the post-match press conference.

"We don't like losing, but it's also true that we have to take some risks in these games and help players gain experience.

"Otherwise, it'll take longer to get everyone up to speed. It'll be a struggle, but that doesn't mean we won't try."

Pointing out that there were obviously problems with the Azzurri, who failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, Mancini maintained that he wants to continue blooding untested players and build a squad for the future.

If Italy finish bottom of the three-team group, they will be relegated to League B of Uefa's new competition - a price Mancini said they would have to risk paying as he continued to experiment.

"We don't want that to happen, of course, we'd love to top the group and you never know what could happen in football.

"We'll wait and see, but our objective is to form a squad for Euro 2020."

The former Inter Milan and Manchester City manager, who left out veteran defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini against Portugal, saw his side come under pressure for most of the match as they struggled to pose any threat.

The only players to leave Lisbon with any praise were goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who at 19 appears to be the natural heir to Gianluigi Buffon, his AC Milan teammate Alessio Romagnoli in defence and forward Simone Zaza.

Italy's midfield was disjointed and even Federico Chiesa, who lit up their 1-1 draw with Poland on Friday after coming on as a substitute, failed to provide the same spark.

Mancini fielded Bryan Cristante and Jorginho in central midfield with Chiesa and Giacomo Bonaventura on the flanks in a formation which occasionally resembled the much-maligned 4-2-4 used by his hapless predecessor Gian Piero Ventura.

BIGGER MARGIN

Zaza was partnered by Ciro Immobile in a two-man strikeforce but, not for the first time, Immobile, a prolific scorer for Lazio, was a let-down playing for his country.

Portugal could even have won by a bigger margin.

Bernardo Silva saw a shot cleared off the line by Romagnoli, Mario Rui's shot was deflected onto the bar and a William Carvalho shot fizzed past Donnarumma's post from 25 metres.

The deadlock was finally broken after half-time.

Bruma, wearing the No. 7 shirt which usually belongs to Ronaldo, dispossessed Italy's debutant right-back Manuel Lazzari, burst into the area and found Silva who curled a shot past Donnarumma from 12 metres.

Portugal, in typically pragmatic style, dropped back after the goal but Italy did little with the extra possession.

Their best chance fell to Zaza who beat Carvalho to a corner but headed over from close range. - REUTERS

Football