Dominant Italy edge Dutch to move top of Nations League group

Updated 09 Sep 2020

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KLAGENFURT (Austria): Romania’s George Puscas (R) scores during the match against Austria.—AFP
KLAGENFURT (Austria): Romania’s George Puscas (R) scores during the match against Austria.—AFP

LONDON: A dominant Italy performance propelled them past the Netherlands 1-0 and to the top of their Nations League group on Monday.

Nicolo Barella headed in the only goal shortly before halftime in Amsterdam as Italy wasted chances. But the display will go a long way to helping the Azzurri put the disappointment of drawing against Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-1 last Friday behind them.

“It was a great performance by the entire team, we played with personality. We earned a great result and we are all happy, especially with the performance,” said winger Lorenzo Insigne. “We could have scored more goals and killed the game but we still earned the three points. That is what counts most.”

It was Italy’s 11th win in 12 matches although some critics tempered that feat by pointing out that none of those victories were against the so-called ‘big teams’ of international football.

“I am happy for the mentality and the presentation,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said. “The lads really played well, they were extraordinary. You don’t win 11 matches in a row if you don’t have a good mentality and a good system of play. Even if the teams weren’t of the level of the Netherlands or Germany, if you win it still means you have something.”

The only disappointing moment for Italy came when forward Nicolo Zaniolo, playing his first international since returning from a serious knee injury, limped off in the 42nd minute after a challenge by Donny van de Beek.

“Zaniolo has seriously twisted his knee. It’s hard to make a comparison with the other knee, which was operated on so we’ll have to see,” Italy team doctor Andrea Ferretti said. “He is very worried, as we all are.”

However, Mancini said Zaniolo was calmer as the pain had diminished.

The win sent Italy to the top of League A Group 1 as Poland beat Bosnia 2-1 in the group’s other match. Italy have a point more than the Netherlands and Poland, and three more than Bosnia.

Poland registered their first points in Zeneca despite the continued absence of rested striker Robert Lewandowski.

Haris Hajradinovic put Bosnia ahead on 24 minutes with a penalty but Kamil Glik’s powerful header pulled Poland level at the break before Kamil Grosicki nodded home the winner.

HAALAND HITS BRACE IN NORWAY ROUT

With international football returning for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, all 54 games that are taking place across Europe over six days are subject to strict hygiene measures, including the exclusion of fans. Players had to pass mandatory pregame tests for COVID-19.

The Czech Republic had to name a new squad as regular members and coach Jaroslav Silhavy were quarantined after Friday’s 3-1 win in Slovakia following a coronavirus outbreak in the team camp.

Led by David Holoubek, coach of the under-18 national team, and with only two of the 23 having played for the national team before, the Czechs lost at home to Scotland 2-1 in League B.

Scotland’s victory in Olomouc sent them top of Group 2.

Jakub Pesek put the home side in front early but Scotland hit back through Lyndon Dykes who grabbed his first international goal on 27 minutes.

Captain Andy Robertson then won a penalty and Ryan Christie converted the resulting spot-kick for Steve Clarke’s men.

Israel drew at home to Slovakia 1-1 in the same group.

In Group 1, Erling Haaland netted twice as Norway shook off their opening loss to Austria with a 5-1 thrashing of Northern Ireland.

Paddy McNair cancelled out Mohamed Elyounoussi’s fine finish but Haaland, who struck his first international goal in Friday’s defeat, thumped in from the edge of the area to restore Norway’s lead.

Alexander Sorloth scored twice, the second via an assist from Haaland who completed the scoring on the hour with another superb finish.

Romania came out on top against Austria in Klagenfurt, with Denis Alibec, Dragos Grigore and Alexandru Maxim on target in a 3-2 victory.

Christoph Baumgartner had equalised for the hosts and Karim Onisiwo struck a late consolation as Austria ceded top place in the group to their opponents.

In League C, Kazakhstan lost at home to Belarus 2-0, and Lithuania won in Albania 1-0.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2020