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Portugal hold off Italy to reach Nations League semis

Portugal reached Nations League semi-finals with a game to spare. © AFP / Marco BERTORELLO

MILAN, Italy, Nov 18 European champions Portugal became the first team to qualify for the Nations League semi-finals on Saturday after holding Italy to a 0-0 draw at the San Siro.

The Portuguese — despite the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo — progressed with one match to play, and are sure to finish top of Group A3, with Italy’s hopes in the tournament over.

Poland had already been relegated to League B.

Roberto Mancini’s Italians needed a win to keep their hopes of advancing to the final four next June alive, but despite pushing Portugal for over an hour in front of 73,000 spectators at the San Siro, could not find a way through.

Instead, they earned a goalless draw which echoed the stalemate against Sweden a year ago that ended their hopes of reaching the World Cup in Russia.

“It’s really satisfying to reach the final phase of this competition,” said coach Fernando Santos.

“But it was a very difficult match, above all the first half when I have to admit we had a lot of difficulties.”

Portugal host Poland on Tuesday in Guimaraes, in a match that has no significance for either side.

But Santos insisted: “The final match against Poland will be important because it will be in front of our supporters, who are always with us.

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“We have to have a great match and to win.”

Santos’ side had beaten Italy 1-0 in Lisbon and withstood early pressure from the hosts with Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile both going close in the first half.

Portugal threatened after the break as William Carvalho was denied by Gianluigi Donnarumma and substitute Joao Mario fired over the bar.

“I think we played an excellent match but we didn’t manage to score which is an important detail,” said Mancini.

“We dominated Portugal and then had a drop in tempo after 70 minutes, which is only to be expected, as we can’t play in their half for 90 minutes.

“Even if we’re disappointed at not winning I think we have everything and little by little we’re going to also put the attack into place,” added Mancini after Italy maintained their record of never having been beaten at the San Siro.

– Chiellini’s 100th cap –

Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini (R) earned his 100th cap. © AFP / Marco BERTORELLO

Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini celebrated his 100th Italy cap, exactly 14 years to the day since his debut against Finland.

Insigne forced a save from Rui Patricio after five minutes firing in from a distance with the Portuguese goalkeeper clearing into the path of Immobile.

But the Lazio forward sent the rebound over the crossbar, with Alessandro Florenzi also sending an effort wide from an angle.

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Former AC Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci, whistled by the crowd every time he touched the ball after moving back to Juventus this season, headed onto the side-netting from a free-kick.

Federico Chiesa came close on 53 minutes after a cross from Cristiano Biraghi following good work from Marco Verratti but the Portuguese defence cleared.

“I think we’re on the right path, as we controlled it for 70 minutes with a lot of great play and chances, but we must make more of our scoring opportunities,” said defender Chiellini, who is the Azzurri’s top scorer with eight goals.

“We worked so hard and then in the final half-hour we were exhausted, which took away sharpness and meant we were risky at the back.

“We’ve got the foundations, we dominated the reigning European champions and the issue of not scoring goals will improve with time.”

Italy play a friendly against the United States in Genk on Tuesday.

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