Italy vs Portugal
Portugal already have one hand on the top spot of Group A3 in the UEFA Nations League, but the fight isn’t over yet as Italy still have a chance—albeit slim—of toppling them from the summit.
The Portuguese need only a draw at the San Siro to secure their place in the tournament final. However, an Italy home win will see the Azzurri go no.1 and leave Portugal needing a victory against Poland in the final game of the group stage.
Italy, of course, will be determined to get all three points and boost their chances of winning another international silverware. After all, their players are hungrier than ever after missing last summer’s World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
Unarguably one of the best football players in the world right now, Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t join the Portugal squad in the opening games of the tournament. The nation’s top scorer opted to stay with his new team, Juventus, as he adapts to his new environment.
Nevertheless, there were reports that Ronaldo could re-join the reigning European champions in this game, considering that it will be held in Italy where he is currently plying his trade.
Unfortunately, the 33-year-old striker was once again omitted from Fernando Santos’ squad—with the latest reports claiming that he will return to international duty next year.
While the Portuguese could do without their talisman, as they have proven in their past two games, there’s no doubt that his presence would have been a welcome boost to the team.
To recall, Portugal won over the Italians, albeit by just one goal. The Azzurri held them for the most part as their usual deadly attack was nowhere to be found.
Ronaldo, for his part, has already hit nine goals and made five assists for the Bianconeri this 2018-19 campaign.
Cristiano Ronaldo in action during Juventus’ game against AC Milan in the Serie A
With the absence of the so-called CR7, Portugal are likely to lean on the “Silvas” to spark the nation’s frontline. Sevilla striker Andre Silva grabbed the UEFA Nations League 2018 highlights when he scored the winner against Italy, and he followed it up with an equaliser against Poland.
On the other hand, Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva was also on target against the Poles to help keep Portugal undefeated in the competition.
Old and new faces combine in Italy
Italy will also be without a “renowned” player, but it’s a player of a different level in a whole different situation.
Controversial striker Mario Balotelli, who made his return to international duty against Saudi Arabia last March, was not included in Roberto Mancini’s latest squad. The 28-year-old OGC Nice forward has been struggling for form and looked out of sorts in their September encounter with Poland.
Balotelli wasn’t part of the team that played against Ukraine and Poland in October, and Mancini remained firm with his decision as he excluded the player again.
The new Italy boss, however, continues his rebuild and focuses on youth this time. Mancini called up three new players for this crucial match, headed by teenage sensation Sandro Tonali.
Tonali, who is playing as a midfielder for Serie B outfit Brescia, has often drawn comparisons to Serie A legend Andre Pirlo for his look and playing style. And his passing and ability to dictate the tempo of the game will be valuable additions to the team.
Besides the 18-year-old rising star, Sassuolo midfielder Stefano Sensi and Hoffenheim forward Vincenzo Grifo have also been named to the Italy international team.
The three players are expected to complement and provide much-needed depth behind the likes of Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Giorgio Chiellini who are expected to lead the team’s attempt to get to the top.
It’s safe to say Italy have history on their side. Out of their 26 meetings overall, Italy have won 18 times and lost just six, with the other two ending in a draw.
In fact, the Azzurri have once gone on a six-game winning streak against the Portuguese from 1993 to 2008.
Nevertheless, while that may be the case, Portugal have the present. In their two meetings at the turn of 2010, the Navigators won in both occasions by a 1-0 scoreline.
The two nations are also far from each other in the FIFA rankings. Portugal are the seventh best team in the world right now, while Italy are currently 19th—a slight improvement from their 20th place before the World Cup.
||Italy vs Portugal
||Portugal 1X2 @ 3.20
|November 18, 03:45 (GMT+8)
Italy are always hard to beat at home. They last lost on their turf in 2016, against France, so it’s not that startling to see the UEFA Nations League 2018 odds at us swinging in their favour.
Despite that though, I doubt Santos’ charges will let loose of their grip on the top spot. They know they need to score only one and defend throughout to ensure their place, and I think that is what’s going to happen here.
I’m not counting out a draw too, but I do think Portugal have a slight edge.
|A SHORT EXPLANATION ON HOW OUR () BETS ARE WORTH:
| = €20 (Highly confident)
|| = €10 (CONFIDENT)
|| = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.
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