A defeat like this will not hurt too much. France were too strong with great quality in their team but the 3-1 final scoreline was hard on an Italy side who did not just look on and admire. They showed character and courage, never subsided and created as many chances as their opponents. Despite the defeat, the Azzurri took a step forward this evening in Nice, playing in a packed stadium where even Balotelli, who plays his club football here, was considered an ‘enemy’. There was no shortage of mistakes and there’s still a long way to go but the growth of the group will nevertheless continue through defeats. The match was as impressive as Italy’s response. Already a goal to the good thanks to Umtiti’s strike on 8′, France doubled their lead though Griezmann on 28′ before Bonucci halved the deficit on 36′. Eight minutes after half time, Dembélé landed the knockout blow.
Italy made seven changes from the Saudi Arabia game and included three debutants in the starting line up. Caldara lined up alongside Bonucci in the centre of the defence, Mandragora was in left midfield and Berardi was up front alongside Balotelli and Chiesa. Sirigu replaced Donnarumma in goal. It was a very young Italy team that followed the path indicated by Mancini. There are no friendly matches against France, but more importantly France are not Saudi Arabia. This was a serious encounter as it constituted one of the final tests for Deschamps’ team before the World Cup, a tournament for which France are among the favourites after an impressive qualifying campaign.
After Sirigu came out well to gather at the feet of Dembélé on 4′, the French needed just four more minutes to breach the Azzurri defence. Sirigu was there again to deny Mbappé but Umtiti, unmarked and well positioned, met the rebound to score. Caught cold, Italy tried to react by moving further up the pitch and on 16′ Balotelli took a shot on the run in an attempt to surprise Lloris but the ball went over. Four minutes later, the post saved the Azzurri when Kante’s shot hit the woodwork before Sirigu once again came out well at Mbappé’s feet.
Italy were struggling to cope with the French counter attacks as Les Bleus showed their ability to run into space and find the right corridors to move in on goal. Thus, on 26′ Mbappé made inroads again, tried to find the top corner and just missed the target. On 28′, however, the referee awarded a penalty – confirmed by VAR – to the home team for a foul by Mandragora on Hernandez. Griezmann converted confidently from 12 yards. It was a difficult moment for Mancini’s men but they did not give up and got back in the game on 36′ when Bonucci followed up Balotelli’s free kick and was first to Lloris’ parry to score his sixth goal for his country.
Italy took the initiative from the restart and went close to 2-2 with Balotelli whose shot was turned behind by the goalkeeper. Dembélé struck the bar on 47′ before Chiesa and then Caldara threatened for the Azzurri. Everything happened in a matter of minutes. Following a chance for an Italian equaliser, on 53′ France scored their third with a great goal from Dembélé whose curled effort finished right in the top corner.
Mancini made his first change on 55′ when Cristante replaced Pellegrini before sending on Insigne and Florenzi for Berardi and D’Ambrosio on 75′. On 77′ Balotelli tried his luck again as he beat the offside trap and fired a powerful shot just too high. There was enough time left to see Sirigu make a great save from the substitute Thauvin and to hear generous applause for Balotelli as he made way for Belotti with four minutes to go.