2018 World Cup warm-ups: Gianluigi Donnarumma, 17, earns first Italy cap in defeat to France
Italy manager Giampiero Ventura handed teenaged AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma his debut but began his reign with a 3-1 defeat to France in Bari on Thursday.
Ventura replaced Antonio Conte last month and pledged to carry on the good work of the current Chelsea manager following Italy’s impressive march to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
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But goals from Manchester United striker Anthony Martial, his first for his country, and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud either side of Graziano Pelle’s 21st minute strike gave France a 2-1 half-time lead.
After Donnarumma replaced Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon for the second period, the 17-year-old custodian made one impressive stop before making his first major error for the national side.
Barely 10 minutes before the final whistle, Donnarumma came off his line at his near post to anticipate a Layvin Kurzawa drive across the Italian goalmouth, only for the Paris Saint-Germain left-back’s strike to spin into the far corner of the net for his first international goal.
Ventura conceded he was “fairly satisfied” with his side’s performance given he had spent “only three days working with the squad”.
He also gave Donnarumma a gentle hint that he could be well on the way to replacing Buffon in the near future.
“He’s a player with huge potential. I wasn’t going to bring him with us just to sit on the bench,” said the Ventura, 68.
“He’s young, but full of talent and it’s only right he gets to experience the Italy dressing room.”
It was France’s first outing since losing the Euro 2016 final on home soil to Portugal.
And manager Didier Deschamps said: “I’m happy, we can always do better but it’s not too bad when you put three past an Italy side that gives little away.”
Italy, ousted at the quarter-final stage of Euro 2016, begin their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign on Monday away to Israel in Haifa.
They looked comfortable in the early stages but a defensive mix-up between Juventus pair Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini allowed Martial to pounce on the gift and beat Buffon one-on-one.
Yet Italy hit back almost immediately, Inter Milan striker Eder flying past N’Golo Kante down the right to deliver for Pelle to spin around Raphael Varane and beat rooted keeper Steve Mandanda on 21 minutes.
The goal, Pelle’s fourth in his last seven Italy appearances, must have calmed his fears that a recent move to the Chinese Super League would harm his Italy chances.
But France were soon back in front, Chiellini losing sight of Giroud on a corner for the Arsenal marksman to beat Buffon with a well-taken volley.
Donnarumma became the youngest goalkeeper for Italy and their youngest player to be capped since 1911 when he replaced Buffon at half time, and didn’t have to wait long to be called into action.
Donnarumma was quickly down to smother a Dimitri Payet effort that bounced in front of him.
Ventura then introduced Marco Verratti, the PSG midfield star making his first Italy appearance since qualifying for Euro 2016, which he missed through injury.
But his arrival failed to produce the desired effect as Pelle nodded Antonio Candreva’s cross over the bar.
Ventura further underlined his aim to inject fresh life into his side by replacing Eder with Torino striker Andrea Belotti for the final quarter-hour.
But after Belotti failed to capitalise on Alessandro Florenzi’s volleyed cross, France added a third.
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba threaded a great ball through for Kurzawa, who beat the keeper with a curling shot after the teenager came too far off his line.
Elsewhere, Nani scored twice as European champions Portugal warmed up for the start of their World Cup qualifying campaign by thumping minnows Gibraltar 5-0 in Porto on Thursday.
In the absence of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani took centre stage, opening the scoring on 27 minutes and adding a second 10 minutes into the second half.
But it wasn’t until the final 20 minutes that Gibraltar crumbled as Joao Cancelo (73), Bernardo Silva (76) and Pepe (78) added their names to the scoresheet.
Fernando Santos’s men start their qualifying campaign on Tuesday away to Switzerland, while Gibraltar host Greece the same day.
Santos will have to do without Ronaldo, though, the star striker still recovering from the knee injury that ended his participation in July’s Euro final against France in the first half.
Results from pre-World Cup qualifying friendlies in Europe on Thursday:
• At Brussels
Belgium 0 Spain 2 (Silva 34, 62-pen)
• At Eindhoven, Netherlands
Netherlands 1 (Wijnaldum 13) Greece 2 (Mitroglou 29, Gianniotas 73)
• At Porto, Portugal
Portugal 5 (Nani 27, 55, Cancelo 73, Silva 76, Pepe 78) Gibralta 0
• At Bari, Italy
Italy 1 (Pelle 21) France 3 (Martial 17, Giroud 28, Kurzawa 81)
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Published: September 2, 2016 04:00 AM