Roberto Mancini suffered his first defeat as Italy manager as the Azzurri went down 3-1 to Didier Deschamps’ France in Nice. The former Man City and Zenit gaffer had started his tenure in charge of the national team with a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia, but the Euro 2016 finalists were too strong for them and ran out deserved winners on Saturday night.
The hosts took just eight minutes to get started with Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti quickest to the rebound after Italian goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu had managed to deny Kylian Mbappe’s first time effort. Deschamps made seven changes to the side that had beaten the Republic of Ireland 2-0 and this looked closer to the first XI he is expected to field when Les Bleus open their World Cup campaign against Australia.
A clumsy foul on Lucas Hernandez saw referee Anthony Taylor point to the spot and although Sirigu guessed right, he was unable to stop Antoine Griezmann from making it 2-0. The Italians were given a ray of hope when Leonardo Bonucci reduced the deficit in the 36th minute. Mario Balotelli’s free kick proved to be too powerful for Hugo Lloris, who parried it right into the path of the Milan defender, who made no mistake from close range.
A look at the Betway app prior to the game would’ve confirmed France as heavy favourites, but Italy were not without their chances and had several opportunities to equalise before a splendid strike from Ousmane Dembele took the game beyond them. The Barca star produced a sublime chip from the edge of the box that Sirigu could do little to stop despite his best efforts.
France could’ve won by more, with Dembele and N’Golo Kante both hitting the woodwork. It was a fairly satisfactory workout for Didier Deschamps but he would’ve been a little concerned with Paul Pogba’s form in this game. The Manchester United medio, restored to his favoured role as part of a midfield 3 along with Kante and Tolisso, was uncharacteristically poor and was booed off the park by French fans after being replaced by Steven N’Zonzi late in the game. Newspapers L’Equipe and Le Parisien weren’t impressed by him either, with the former giving him a 4/10 and the latter a 3.5/10.
French stalwarts Frank Leboeuf and Bixente Lizarazu have called for Pogba’s axing from the squad, with a poll on a popular website indicating that nearly 3/4 of the fans felt that the United medio did not deserve a starting spot on the basis of his current form.
Time is running out for Pogba to make his case for a starting spot. Les Bleus have one final friendly coming up- against the United States before beginning their WC campaign.