After WCup failure, Italy starts Nations League with a draw
ABS-CBN Sports on Sep 08, 2018 09:19 AM
Italy's Jorginho embraces Italy's Giacomo Bonaventura after scoring the equalizer on a penalty kickduring the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Italy and Poland at Dall'Ara stadium in Bologna, Italy, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
By ANDREW DAMPF, AP Sports Writer
ROME (AP) — Ten months after failing to qualify for the World Cup, Italy still doesn't look World Cup-worthy.
Playing their first competitive match since last year's playoff loss to Sweden, the Azzurri required a late penalty to draw with Poland 1-1 at home on Friday in the UEFA Nations League.
Brazilian-born midfielder Jorginho converted the spot kick after substitute Federico Chiesa earned the penalty for Italy.
Poland went ahead late in the first half when Piotr Zielinski volleyed in a cross from Robert Lewandowski following an error from Jorginho.
"We made a few too many mistakes when playing out from the back and that gave Poland the opportunity to counterattack, which was what they wanted to do anyway," Italy coach Roberto Mancini said.
It was Zielinski's third goal this season past goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, having also scored two in Napoli's 3-2 win over AC Milan in Serie A last month.
In Italy's first competitive match under Mancini, Federico Bernerdeschi also produced a couple of dangerous chances.
Mario Balotelli played for just over an hour without any impact before exiting with a slight limp.
"Mario needs to play. He's an experienced player on the international stage, but his fitness levels are an issue right now," Mancini said.
Italy's only victory in its last eight matches was in May, when it beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in a friendly.
The Azzurri are ranked 21st by FIFA — one spot behind Peru and one spot ahead of the United States — for their worst status since FIFA introduced the rankings system 25 years ago.
Italy next visits Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal on Monday.
"Hopefully we can improve from Monday, but clearly we cannot risk any more setbacks after this draw," defender Leonardo Bonucci said. "Portugal is the reigning champion of Europe and is not to be underestimated."
RUSSIA'S FOR REAL
Russia showed that its World Cup quarterfinal appearance was no fluke with a 2-1 win at Turkey in League B.
Artem Dzyuba scored the winner early in the second half after being left unmarked behind Turkey's defense.
Denis Cheryshev opened the scoring for Russia then Serdar Aziz equalized for Turkey.
Serbia has never qualified for the European Championship but looked solid in beating host Lithuania 1-0 in League C.
Dusan Tadic converted a first-half penalty and the visitors also hit the woodwork four times.
The Nations League, which is in its debut edition, provides an additional route to Euro 2020 beyond the usual qualifying, which begins next year. At least one team from each tier is guaranteed a place in the tournament.
In other League C matches, it was: Albania 1, Israel 0 and Romania 0, Montenegro 0.
In League D, it was: Azerbaijan 0, Kosovo 0 and Faeroe Islands 3, Malta 1.
Substitute Michy Batshuayi scored twice in eight minutes as Belgium eased past Scotland 4-0 in its first game since finishing third at the World Cup.
Seven minutes after coming on at halftime in the friendly, Batshuayi took a pass from Eden Hazard in a swift Belgium break and guided the ball low into the net.
Batshuayi, who is on loan at Spanish club Valencia from English Premier League side Chelsea, struck again from just outside the penalty area on the hour.
The earlier goals in Glasgow came from Romelu Lukaku in the first half and Hazard a minute into the second half.
The Belgian players showed the quality that saw them achieve their team's best World Cup showing by finishing third in Russia in July.
Scotland hasn't qualified for a tournament since the 1998 World Cup.
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