Portugal are set to make their UEFA Nations League bow as they host Roberto Mancini’s Italy on Monday evening.
A Ronaldo-less Portugal played out a 1-1 draw with World Cup semi-finalists Croatia in a friendly on Thursday evening, with a first half header from veteran centre-back Pepe preventing a defeat for the Euro 2016 champions.
Their clash with Italy will be their first competitive fixture since their World Cup exit at the hands of Uruguay and all eyes will be on how they can cope without their talisman Ronaldo.
Meanwhile Italy have already begun their Nations League campaign with a disappointing draw at home to Poland. It took a late penalty from Chelsea’s Jorginho to earn the Azzurri a solitary point and they will no doubt be desperate to pick up a win on Monday to convince their supporters that their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup was just a blip.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the encounter.
It has now been 25 years since these two teams have faced each other in a competitive fixture and that game proved to be a fiery clash between two sides vying for a spot in the 1994 World Cup.
It was the Azzurri who prevailed, with Dino Baggio breaking Portuguese hearts in the 83rd minute. Italy went on to reach the final of USA 94, being defeated in the final on penalties against Brazil.
Ruben Neves vs Jorginho
There is no doubt that the tempo of the game will be dictated by one of the two best midfielders in the Premier League so far this season.
Ruben Neves has started life in England’s top flight with Wolves superbly and the standout performer in a side which is littered with talent all over the pitch. The young midfielder has looked remarkably unfased by the step up from the Championship his performances meant he was called back into the Portugal squad after missing out the World Cup squad.
Jorginho has arguably been even more impressive so far this season after arriving from Napoli in the summer and he has quickly become pivotal to Chelsea’s early season success under new manager Maurizio Sarri. The 26-year-old has completed the most passes in the Premier League and has proven himself to be more than capable of dealing with the increased intensity of the English game.
The biggest piece of news for Portugal coming into the international break was that they would be without their star man Cristiano Ronaldo as the forward looks to adjust to life at his new club Juventus. Meanwhile, Gedson Fernandes, Sergio Oliveira, Claudio Ramos and Pedro Mendes all received their first international call-ups, so there is a chance that there will be some new face in the side on Monday.
Portugal may have slightly under performed at this year’s World Cup, but there is no doubting that they are still one of the best sides in European football and they are capable of beating anyone on their day. Of course Ronaldo’s absence makes them significantly weaker, but they still boast plenty of promising talent.