BOLOGNA, Italy, Sep 8 – Roberto Mancini’s first competitive game as Italy coach ended in a 1-1 Nations League draw with Poland, midfielder Jorginho saving Azzurri blushes with a second-half penalty to level Piotr Zielinski’s first-half opener in Bologna on Friday.
Mancini, 58, was appointed after the four-time winners’ shock failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup for the first time since 1958.
And the former Manchester City boss admitted there was work to do.
“It’s the first important game, so a few errors can happen, but overall the boys did well,” said Mancini.
“I knew it was going to be difficult. They are a team that, at this moment, have more assurance than us.
“But in the second half we made less technical mistakes and I’m happy with those 45 minutes. Before we made many mistakes, too many.”
Italy struggled in all areas, Zielinski opening for Poland five minutes before the break to angry whistles from the crowd at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara.
Federico Chiesa came off the bench in the 71st minute to replace Lorenzo Insigne, and when he was brought down in the box minutes later Brazilian-born Jorginho stepped up to beat Lukasz Fabianski.
Striker Mario Balotelli played for an hour before being substituted by Mancini along with Insigne who spearheaded the early Azzurri attack along with Federico Bernardeschi.
Zielinski and Robert Lewandowski were in the front line for the Poles.
Mancini handed 26-year-old Fiorentina left-back Cristiano Biraghi his first cap.
But Poland piled on the pressure with two early scoring opportunities.
Gianluigi Donnarumma — between the posts after the retirement of Italy icon Gianluigi Buffon — blocked a point blank Zielinski shot on six minutes.
And the 19-year-old AC Milan goalkeeper dived to clear off Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski after 27 minutes.
Juventus winger Bernardeschi had the best chance to get Italy off the mark but rattled the post after 37 minutes.
But three minutes later a defensive blunder by Chelsea midfielder Jorginho gifted Poland the breakthrough they needed.
Jorginho lost possession to Lewandowski who crossed from the left for Zielinski to whip a powerful volley past the helpless Donnarumma.
– ‘Important point’ –
Balotelli was replaced by Torino striker Andrea Belotti and Chiesa came off the bench and immediately had an impact.
The son of former international striker Enrico Chiesa, the 20-year-old forced a save from Fabianski and was then brought down by Bartosz Blaszczykowski for a penalty.
Jorginho converted to equalise and score his first goal for Italy.
Italy pushed for the winner but had to settle for a point before their trip to Lisbon where they will be playing a Portugal side missing Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I’m happy with the performance and we came close to the victory,” said Jerzy Brzeczek, who took over after Poland crashed out in the group stage of the World Cup.
“It’s an important point in a difficult stadium and it’s just a pity we were unable to make more of our chances.”
Poland will play their next matches in the Nations League at home on October 11 against Portugal and on October 14 against Italy.