Spain and Portugal in lukewarm stalemate ahead of Euros

MADRID: Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo (left) heads the ball next to Spain’s defender Diego Llorente during the international friendly football match between Spain and Portugal at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid in preparation for the UEFA European Championships, on Friday. – AFP

MADRID: Spain and Portugal both lacked firepower as they drew 0-0 in a friendly warm up for the European Championships at the Metropolitano in Madrid on Friday. The match was both an occasion to officially launch the two nations launching a joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup and for the hosts to test out a new-look defense.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a frustrating night on his first game in Madrid since leaving Real in 2018 and came close to scoring twice and set up a good chance Diogo Jota failed to take advantage of. Backed by Joao Felix, Ronaldo was largely neutralized by Barcelona pair Sergio Busquets and Thiago Alcantara in a tight home midfield in front of a remodeled defense.

“It was a very good test for us and I think we will all be ready for the European Championship,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique. “In the first 60 minutes we managed to almost completely cancel out the reigning European champions, they almost didn’t make three passes in a row,”

Alvaro Morata came closest to scoring for Spain missing two clear chances and hitting the bar in stoppage time. “I think we made enough chances to score,” said Luis Enrique. “I don’t get angry when my players miss chances, I’m never going to reproach my players for not being able to take their chances.”

Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte made his debut after opting for Spain ahead of his native France. Luis Enrique praised Laporte and his center back partner Pau Torres. “I thought they were both exceptional, dominant, with character, putting pressure on the Portuguese strikers.” Portugal coach Fernando Santos was less satisfied. “We can do better, I’ll be talking with the lads and we have the quality to improve,” he said. “They gave everything and it’ll serve us well.”

“We have the consistency to hope to win titles,” he added. Some 14,743 masked fans attended at Atletico Madrid’s 68,000-seat Wanda Metropolitano stadium. They whistled when Luis Enrique’s name was read out before kickoff and sung an anti-Morata chant when the striker hit the bar.

In the national team’s first game with a home crowd at Madrid’s Metropolitano, some spectators whistled his name when the line-ups were announced, but Luis Enrique said that “It doesn’t affect me if they whistle or applaud me,” said the coach. “It bothers me that they do that to my players.”

Italy cruise past Czechs
A week before they kick off Euro 2020 in Rome, Italy crushed the Czech Republic 4-0 in Bologna on Friday, keeping an eighth straight clean sheet. Ciro Immobile Nicolo Barella Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Berardi all scored for the hosts who will open the Euro against Turkey next Friday.

In the absence of Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, who is nursing an injured knee, Jorginho, a Champions League winner with Chelsea, and Barella quickly set the tempo for Italy. Italy’s strikers Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile wasted early chances, before Immobile of Lazio broke the deadlock in the 3rd minute.

Barella, who injected energy from midfield, added a second before half time. Immobile set up Insigne to score the third with a deflected shot. Berardi rounded off the party in style, much to the delight of the few thousand spectators in the venerable Dall’Ara Stadium.

They also warmly welcomed the debut of Sassuolo striker Giacomo Raspadori, the surprise pick on the 26-man squad, with 12 minutes left. While Italy’s attack enjoyed itself, the defence maintained their defensive solidity with an eighth consecutive clean sheet. The Czechs, who open their Euro campaign against Scotland in Glasgow on June 14, started brightly before the home team took full control.

The only real scare for Italy manager Roberto Mancini came when Leonardo Bonucci limped off in the first half after twisting his right knee, but the Juventus defender returned and finished the game. Italy are undefeated in 27 matches, since September 2018. – AFP

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