Goals from Samuel Umtiti, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele were enough to outdo Leonardo Bonucci’s solitary strike as France overcame Italy 3-1 in an immensely entertaining affair in Nice.
With France being the only side out of these two World Cup colossi to head to Russia this summer, the clash at the Allianz Riviera was always going to be an intriguing one.
With many tipping France for World Cup glory in Russia and Italy failing to make the cut, their match on Friday was seemingly going to be a one-horse race, despite former Manchester City and Inter boss Roberto Mancini taking the reigns for only the second time following a 2-1 win against Saudi Arabia earlier in the week.
Italy had much of the possession early on, but it was France who broke the deadlock through Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti early on.
Having conceded a free kick in a threatening position, the Azzurri were unable to deal with the pressure exerted by France, with Antoine Griezmann’s delivery failing to be properly cleared. Subsequently, the hosts worked the ball into the six yard box and, following a minor scramble, Umtiti fired the ball into the gaping net to hand Didier Deschamps’ men the lead.
Italy earned their chance at an equaliser before the 15 minute mark, with Mario Balotelli standing over a free kick in a dangerous position. However, the Nice striker could only fire his shot into the France wall before firing the follow up over the bar.
Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe continued to build upon a bright start and came close to doubling France’s lead little under half an hour in. Following a sublime ball forward from Paul Pogba, France worked the ball to Mbappe who struck the ball from 20 yards, flying narrowly beyond the post.
Little after a minute following Mbappe’s miss, Lucas Hernandez surged forward with an electric run, working his way into the Italy box before being tripped by Azzuri defender Rodrigo Madragora. After consulting VAR a penalty was given and Griezmann promptly struck beyond Salvatore Sirigu, making it 2-0.
Despite going two goals down, Italy didn’t allow the dominance of their opposition to go to their head and they were rewarded for their determination in the 35th minute. With Balotelli returning to the Italy side, the Nice striker seems to have a renewed sense of purpose and he was truly influential in their opening goal of the night.
With VAR awarding a dubious France foul as just outside the box, Balotelli smashed his free kick right at Hugo Lloris. The Spurs keeper parried the shot but Leonardo Bonucci was alive to the situation, slotting in to make it 2-1.
At the break it had unquestionably been France’s half. Kylian Mbappe had been an incandescently bright influence on Les Bleus’ game. The hosts dominated the game for more than half an hour, dictating the tempo and thoroughly outclassing the four-time World champions.
Despite Bonucci’s goal somewhat quelling France’s charge, Deschamps’ men were nonetheless deserving of their 2-1 lead at the halfway point.
A quick restart from both sides saw a flurry of close chances come to nothing in the end. Fifteen seconds after the restart Balotelli forced a corner and the subsequent chances saw Bonucci handed a great chance to equalise however, head directed a free header straight at Lloris.
The subsequent French counter attack saw Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele find space for a shot, although his strike thumped against the bar and ended the hosts opportunity.
Less than five minutes later and France were close to finding their third yet again with Mbappe dribbling round Sirigu and pulling the ball back. A few passes found Correntin Tolisso on the edge of the box, but the Bayern Munich star placed the ball just wide.
Although the game appeared to be slowing down somewhat after the hour mark, Ousmane Dembele was on hand to wake fans up with a sublime curling effort from outside the box. Kylian Mbappe’s run at the Azzuri defence was ended early, but the ball found its was to the Barcelona starlet who promptly found the top corner to make it 3-1.
Following a prolonged period of relative calmness – with the only break in the monotony being an Mbappe disallowed for being offside – Marseille’s Florian Thauvin came the closest to adding to France’s tally as a sweetly struck volley was turned away for a corner following a top save from Sirigu.
Despite the game being a very full on affair, the game petered out in the final ten minutes, with the score ending 3-1 to Italy following a thoroughly entertaining affair between the two neighbours.