ITALY welcome Portugal for Saturday evening's Nations League encounter. Gaurav Chaddah (@Gchaddahjourno) highlights the best betting angle.
Italy v Portugal | Saturday 17th November 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Portugal travel to Italy on Saturday night as the Nations League continues. Portugal have enjoyed a 100% record so far in the competition and will know that should they avoid defeat they will finish top of the group with a game still to play.
For Italy it is simply a must win. Victory for Roberto Mancini’s men would ensure they leapfrog Portugal into first and then would be relying on Poland to beat Portugal on the final matchday for them to finish top. This is last chance saloon.
The two sides met in the reverse fixture back in September, when Portugal secured the three points with a narrow 1-0 win. That day Andre Silva’s secon- half goal was enough in a tight affair and it would be fair to assume that could be the case again, particularly with Portugal only a point away from securing top spot.
The defeat for Italy last time was a hammer blow but last month’s last gasp 1-0 win away at Poland has given the Italians another chance to finish top of the pool with this must-win match.
No Ronaldo, no concern
Once again, Portugal will be missing star man Cristiano Ronaldo but that isn’t a worry. Ronaldo hasn’t played for Portugal since the World Cup, in a spell where Portugal have won three games and gained a draw against World Cup finalists Croatia.
The reigning European champions, however, have had a boost ahead of this international break, with Raphael Guerrero, Jose Fonte, Andre Gomes and Joao Mario all returning to the squad.
Italy have suffered a blow in the run up ton this game, with Juventus winger Federico Bernadeschi withdrawing due to injury. Despite this being a must win game, manager Roberto Mancini has called up three new players to his squad in the form of Sandro Tonali, Stefano Sensi and Vicenzo Grifo although it is unclear, what, if any part, they might play,
Goals may be hard to come by
It is fair to say Mancini hasn’t forgotten his Italian roots and since his appointment, has made it a priority to make his Azzurri side much harder to beat.
His pragmatic and rather rigid approach may not win many fans but under his reign the Italians have only lost twice and have become a much more difficult opposition following failure to qualify for the World Cup.
Each of Italy’s last five games have yielded Under 2.5 Goals, including three 1-1 draws in that period.
Portugal, on the other hand, even without Ronaldo have enjoyed a successful time in front of goal in recent times. They put three past Scotland last time out and the same figure in Poland the previous match.
It is safe to say however they might not find as much success against the stubbornness of the Italians – when one goal was enough last time they met – and are facing a much more organised side than say against Scotland last time out.
Cagey first half in store
Portugal make the journey with the full knowledge that should they come away avoiding defeat, they will finish top of the group with a game to spare and they may not be in a rush to force proceedings.
The home side are in the opposite boat, but it is difficult to see Mancini instructing his men to go all guns blazing from the off and is likely to play with a more pragmatic style and try to win the game late on, like in Poland last time.
First halves involving Italy are often cagey, tight affairs. Four of there last five games have seen a draw as the Half-Time result, with three of them going on to finish all-square.
Whilst Portugal have enjoyed some more entertaining games, they also often play their best football in the second-half. The visitors have played four games since the World Cup and three of them have ended up in Half-Time stalemates. The only time this wasn’t the case was when they ran out 3-2 winners away at Scotland and even then, it took them until the 44th minute to break the deadlock.
I fully expect the stats to play ball here and both sides content for a tight first-half affair. With that in mind and 51/50 on offer with Marathon, the draw at half time is my preferred play.
Italy v Portugal – Half-Time draw (51/50 Marathon)