Roberto Mancini's Italy registered a comfortable 2-0 victory over visiting heavyweights Poland at the Mapei Stadium in Reggio-Emilia in a Sunday night fixture. The win takes Italy atop Group 1 with nine points. With one game to go, the Italians now look favorites to top the group and make it to the final four.
Earlier this week, the Italians' massive 41-member squad was truncated to just 19 members due to coronavirus-related reasons. Coach Mancini himself tested positive for the virus on Friday which meant that he couldn't be present on the touchline, due to which it was all the more challenging for a young Italian side in a must-win game. The only thing going in their favor was the emphatic 4-0 win over Estonia in a midweek friendly.
Poland, who have always been touted as the dark horse of the group, came into this fixture as table-toppers. Jerzy Brzęczek's side, who managed to hold Italy to a goalless draw in the reverse fixture, were fancying themselves to pile on the Italians' misery. With a fully fit squad and Robert Lewandowski in supreme form, the game was expected to be a tightly-contested affair.
But as the game started, it was the Italians, buoyed by Federico Bernardeschi, Lorenzo Insigne and Nicolo Barella, who were all superb on the night. In defense, the likes of Acerbi and Bastoni perfectly filled in the shoes of their senior pros, as they contained Lewandowski and kept him out of the game.
In the end, a classic Jorginho penalty in the 27th minute and a well-crafted goal from substitute Domenico Berardi was enough to seal the three points for Mancini and co. All in all, it was a clinical performance from the Azzuri, who now need a win against bottom-placed Bosnia and Herzegovina in their last group stage match to guarantee qualification into the Nations League Finals.
In what was a real test of character for stand-in coach Alberico Evani and his side, we take a look at how they fared on a scale of 1-10.
Italy Player Ratings
Gianluigi Donnarumma - (6/10)
The 22-year-old shot-stopper, who has been having a dream run with club AC Milan, did not have much to do throughout the game, with Poland rarely making a foray in attack.
Alessandro Florenzi - (7/10)
The Azzurri skipper, generally known for his exemplary work-rate, put in a fine shift in what was a must-win fixture. Solid in defense and marshaled his troops excellently. Even ventured forward whenever he could and nearly got in a 1 vs 1 situation with the Polish goalkeeper towards the end of the first half.
Francesco Acerbi - (7.5/10)
The journeyman central defender was one of the standout performers on the night. Was commanding in the air and a real threat from set-pieces. Could have scored in the first half had he kept a header from Insigne's cross on target. A genuine contender for a place in the starting XI going ahead.
Alessandro Bastoni - (7/10)
Recently recovering from Covid-19, the Inter Milan center-back, all of 21 years old, has been touted as one for the future. And rightly so, given how he comfortably kept Lewandowski at bay. Got a good eye for a pass too and several qualities of a modern center-back. Can be more authoritative on field, which will come with time.
Emerson Palmieri - (6.5/10)
Having fallen down the pecking order at Chelsea since Ben Chilwell's arrival, the Brazil-born left-back didn't look out of place at all and was a constant threat down the left flank. Made a bursting run to win a free-kick just after the half-hour mark in the game. Didn't have too much to do overall, though, with Poland barely creating any chances of note.
Nicolo Barella - (8/10)
Another one from the younger brigade, Barella impressed fans and critics alike with some silky footwork and passing. Should have registered an assist had the referee not ruled Insigne's finish off-side as early as the 20th minute. Had another good chance from the edge of the box early in the second half too.
Linked up with Bernardeschi very well to make life difficult for Poland. A sublime performance from a consistent player, who is well and truly part of the Italy gaffer's plans for the foreseeable future.
Jorginho - (7.5/10)
The Chelsea vice-captain, who has now established himself as one of the mainstays of this resurgent Italy side, put on a clinical display in central midfield, controlling the tempo of the game and making solid tackles throughout. Converted the spot-kick to give his side the lead.
Manuel Locatelli - (6.5/10)
In the side as a replacement for the industrious Marco Verratti, the Sassuolo man, playing at his home ground, wasn't the most outstanding player on the night. A defensive medio by trade, Locatelli did not push higher up the pitch, unlike Nicolo Barella, his counterpart on the right. With Insigne also cutting inside on his own, the 22-year-old couldn't link up too well with the former either.
Federico Bernardeschi - (9/10)
Player of the Match performance. Was deadly in the initial exchanges which finally resulted in him winning the penalty that was calmly converted by Jorginho. Kept drawing the Polish defenders and midfielders towards him and that got a couple of them booked for tackles out of frustration. Took on the defenders with ease and also hit a couple of beautiful shots from long-range— a complete performance from the 26-year-old Juventus star.
Andrea Belotti - (7/10)
A seasoned campaigner for both club and country, the Torino frontman scuffed several chances on the night. Timed his run to perfection to get to a through ball from Insigne early on in the game, but couldn't fire the shot that followed on target. Poor first touch on multiple occasions from good crosses. Got into good goal-scoring positions throughout like a center-forward should, but needs to be more clinical if he is to challenge Ciro Immobile for a place in the side.
Lorenzo Insigne - (8/10)
Another stellar display from the Napoli star. Was nimble, energetic and a threat from the left flank throughout. Made good use of some pin-point crossing from Bernardeschi and Berardi to keep the Wojciech Szczęsny on his toes.
Showed commendable work-rate too, with a combination of long-rangers and attempted dribbles. Grabbed an assist with a slick pass to Berardi.
Domenico Berardi - (8/10)
Came on in the 64th minute for Bernardeschi and immediately made his presence felt. Won a foul near the half-line, which ultimately resulted in a Poland midfielder being sent off. Played a beautiful pass to Insigne right after, who returned the favor with an assist.
Scored a goal for the ages, beautifully cutting in on his left foot past the opposition center-backs and slotting the ball past the keeper. With some tough competition for spots in the right flank, with Bernardeschi, Barella and even Nicolo Zaniolo, this cameo is certainly one to remember for the Sassuolo winger.
Stefano Okaka - NA
Came on for Belotti in the 79th minute. Didn't get enough time on the ball to be rated.
Stephan El Shaarawy - N/A
Giovani Di Lorenzo - NA
Published 16 Nov 2020, 12:02 IST