Italy moved top of their UEFA Nations League group on Monday after an impressive 1-0 win over the Netherlands that was slightly spoiled by news rising star Nicolo Zaniolo might have suffered another serious knee injury.
Nicolo 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 defection to 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.
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.