NICE, France, Jun 2 – Ousmane Dembele scored a terrific goal in an impressive display for France as the World Cup contenders defeated Italy 3-1 in a friendly in Nice on Friday.
Barcelona centre-back Samuel Umtiti grabbed the opening goal after eight minutes at the Allianz Riviera, converting a rebound from close range after Kylian Mbappe’s volley was saved by Salvatore Sirigu.
N’Golo Kante fired against the post from distance as Sirigu produced a fine fingertip save, but Antoine Griezmann added a second from the penalty spot following a foul on Lucas Hernandez by Rolando Mandragora.
Italy cut the deficit before the break when Leonardo Bonucci alertly followed up after Hugo Lloris failed to deal with a powerful Mario Balotelli free-kick.
Balotelli forced Lloris to save low with his foot within seconds of the restart after half-time, while Dembele rattled the crossbar moments later having burst past a pair of Italy defenders.
But the Barcelona forward sealed victory on 63 minutes, curling a sublime first-time shot into the top corner after Mbappe’s searing run was halted on the edge of the area.
“There are lots of things that pleased me beyond the three goals,” France coach Didier Deschamps told French television station TF1.
“It could have been a bigger scoreline. If we had been more efficient we could have been at ease a bit earlier.
“We’re not going to get carried away, there’s still a second part of our preparation ahead of us.”
Paul Pogba though was jeered by a section of home fans in the second half after a misplaced pass, and again when he was replaced by Steven N’Zonzi with five minutes remaining.
Despite an underwhelming display from the Manchester United midfielder, Griezmann quickly sprang to his team-mate’s defence.
“The whistles are part of football, you have to stay tough mentally. We’re all playing for the same shirt. He plays his game, you’re used to him scoring. We don’t expect that from him, only that he rotates the ball and plays for the team,” Griezmann said.
“He has had a difficult season at Manchester United but he has a lot of confidence in himself.”
The match was just the second in charge for Italy coach Roberto Mancini, who took the job last month after Gian Piero Ventura was sacked following the four-time world champions’ failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first since 1958.
“We made some errors but France are among the best teams,” said Mancini, whose side beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Switzerland on Monday. “We did some good things but we know that we must improve.
“I even had hope of equalising but I’m not going to say we deserved to win. France are better than us. Even if it’s a friendly nobody likes to lose.”