BOLOGNA, Italy (Reuters) - Italy needed a late penalty from midfielder Jorginho to scrape a 1-1 draw at home to Poland in the Nations League on Friday, their first competitive game under coach Roberto Mancini.
Poland, playing their first match under new coach Jerzy Brzeczek, who replaced Adam Nawalka following their World Cup group stage exit, went ahead with a superbly executed Piotr Zielinski volley five minutes before halftime.
With the home crowd getting restless, Italy were rescued in the 78th minute when visiting midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski fouled Federico Chiesa in the penalty area.
Brazilian-born Jorginho calmly converted to ensure the points were shared in the League A Group Three game.
Italy travel to European champions Portugal in their next match in UEFA’s new competition on Monday.
“It was the first big game so there were some mistakes but overall the lads did well,” said Mancini.
He gave Fiorentina left back Cristiano Biraghi his debut in Italy’s first competitive match since the infamous 0-0 draw against Sweden in November which caused them to miss the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini quickly made his mark on Poland striker Robert Lewandowski with a late tackle which earned him a booking in the eighth minute but it failed to deter the Poles who looked dangerous on the counter.
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma made two outstanding point-blank saves to foil Zielinksi in the first half hour but was powerless to stop another effort from the Napoli player in the 40th minute.
Jorginho was caught in possession, the ball was quickly fed to Lewandowski on the left and he floated a delightful cross to the far post where the unmarked Zielinski volleyed home.
Federico Bernardeschi, who had Italy’s best first-half chance when he shot wide from the edge of the area, missed from a similar position after the break.
Mario Balotelli, whose only contribution was a first-half shot which sailed high and wide, was replaced by Andrea Belotti, although Mancini noted the forward was short of match practice.
“He’s a striker of international level, he just needs to play,” he said.
Italy then looked more dangerous and needed a penalty to salvage a point but there were encouraging signs for Mancini.
“They are all lads who can do well in the future as they showed in the second half,” he added.
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris