Nicolo Barella extended Italy’s two-year unbeaten run as he scored the winner in Monday’s 1-0 victory away to the Netherlands in the Uefa Nations League while Erling Haaland netted twice for Norway in a 5-1 thrashing of Northern Ireland.
Italy’s win was slightly spoiled by news rising star Nicolo Zaniolo might have suffered another serious knee injury.
Barella’s bullet header in first half stoppage time was enough for Roberto Mancini’s side to take all three points in Amsterdam and top spot in League A, Group 1.
The ‘Azzurri’ are a point ahead of the Dutch, who are playing under interim coach Dwight Lodeweges following Ronald Koeman’s appointment at Barcelona, and third-placed Poland following their 2-1 away win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I’m happy for the mentality, the performance, the boys really played brilliantly,” said Mancini to Italian broadcaster Rai.
Mancini made seven changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Bosnia on Friday, ending an 11-match winning streak, and his team dominated at the Johan Cruijff Arena.
“You don’t win 11 games in a row if you don’t have a good mentality. The teams we beat (in Euro 2020 qualification) weren’t as good as the Netherlands or Germany, but winning games is still tough,” the former Inter Milan and Manchester City coach added.
Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Leonardo Spinazzola all had plenty of joy attacking down the left flank, with left-back Spinazzola creating the first chance of the game with a rapid burst towards the byline in the 17th minute.
His cross found his Roma teammate Nicolo Zaniolo who was unlucky to not open the scoring with an acrobatic bicycle kick.
Two minutes later Immobile cut in from the same flank before firing a shot just wide, and 10 minutes before the break it was Insigne’s turn to charge in from the left and curl a decent effort just wide of the far post.
Zaniolo knee fears
Things took a turn for the worse for Italy when Zaniolo limped off in the first half with a knee problem, a worry for the 21-year-old who only returned from a serious left knee injury in the summer.
After the match Italy’s chief doctor Andrea Ferretti confirmed that it was a “significant sprain”, adding that “he is worried, as are we.”
However in the post-match media conference Mancini said that attacking midfielder Zaniolo was “calmer” as he was wasn’t “experiencing serious pain”.
Later on Monday evening Roma said that Zaniolo had suffered “trauma” to his left knee, adding that he would undergo tests to “assess the full extent of the injury” when he returns to the Italian capital on Tuesday.
With Moise Kean on in Zaniolo’s place Italy continued to control the match and in added time Barella gave the away side a deserved lead, crashing home a header from an Immobile cross – again from the left.
The hosts started the second half on the back foot but would have been level in the 55th minute had Gianluigi Donnarumma not tipped over Donny van de Beek’s stinging close-range drive.
However Italy continued to cause the Dutch problems, wasting a host of promising positions against a Netherlands team that lacked the vitality of the side Koeman had led to qualification for Euro 2020.
Kean should have put the result beyond doubt as the Dutch pushed hard for a leveller in added time but after rounding Jasper Cillessen could only shank his shot wide.
Haaland on song
Poland registered their first points after a 2-1 win over Bosnia in Zeneca despite the continued absence of rested striker Robert Lewandowski.
Haris Hajradinovic put Bosnia ahead on 24 minutes with a penalty but Kamil Glik’s powerful header pulled Poland level at the break before Kamil Grosicki nodded home the winner.
Romania came out on top against Austria in Klagenfurt, with Denis Alibec, Dragos Grigore and Alexandru Maxim on target in a 3-2 victory.
Christoph Baumgartner had equalised for the hosts and Karim Onisiwo struck a late consolation as Austria ceded top place in League B, Group 1 to their opponents.
Norway shook off their opening loss to Austria as Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland helped tear apart Northern Ireland in Belfast.
Paddy McNair cancelled out Mohamed Elyounoussi’s fine finish but Haaland, who struck his first international goal in Friday’s defeat, thumped in from the edge of the area to restore Norway’s lead.
Alexander Sorloth scored twice, the second via an assist from Haaland who completed the scoring on the hour with another superb finish.
Scotland scraped past an inexperienced Czech Republic 2-1 in Olomouc to go top of League B, Group 2.
The Czechs on Sunday announced a squad comprising 21 newcomers for the Scotland encounter after two backroom staff tested positive for Covid-19.
Jakub Pesek put the home side in front early but Scotland hit back through Lyndon Dykes who grabbed his first international goal on 27 minutes.
Captain Andy Robertson then won a penalty and Ryan Christie converted the resulting spot-kick for Steve Clarke’s men.
“It was far from ideal for them but it wasn’t ideal for us,” Robertson told Sky Sports.
“Three points, we’re top of the group and we can’t complain. We were probably on a hiding to nothing.”