Jorginho believes it would provide an "incentive" for other players who do not score regularly and prove that goals are not the only factor in the award if he wins the Ballon d'Or.

The midfielder was crowned UEFA Men's Player of the Year in August after winning the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy.

The 29-year-old has been named on the shortlist for the Ballon d'Or, but Lionel Messi remains the favourite for the gong, with Robert Lewandowski also a strong contender.

Jorginho - who scored eight goals in all competitions last season – says it would demonstrate that finding the back of the net is not essential for players to be the best on the planet.

"It’s not up to me to say if I should win the Ballon d’Or, but it would be an incentive for other players, to show that not only goals are taken into account," Jorginho said to Globo Esporte.

"I don’t want to have too many expectations, but I would be hypocritical if I said I don’t think about [winning] it. It’s great if it happens, but if it doesn’t, I won’t complain.

"I keep my feet on the ground and I focus on something else, I’ve already won the best player of the year by UEFA."

Jorginho also confirmed that he opted not to represent his native Brazil in 2016, choosing instead to wait for an Italy call-up, having moved to the country at the age of 15.

"[Brazil] tried to convince me, but in the end I chose Italy, otherwise I would have been ungrateful," Jorginho continued.

"It would not be bad to win the World Cup. The Champions League and the Euros can’t be underestimated, but the World Cup goes beyond anything else.

"We won’t be the favourite in Qatar, but we can’t go unnoticed as we won the Euros."

Italy are locked in a fierce battle with Switzerland to finish top of World Cup qualifying Group C. They are level on 14 points, with the Azzurri just ahead on goal difference, and face off on Friday in a potentially decisive clash.

Europe's qualifying section for the 2022 World Cup reaches its dramatic climax over the next week, with eight more nations set to secure their places in Qatar.

There will be 50 matches played during this international window, during which the outcome of all 10 groups will be decided, with Denmark and Germany the only European nations to have already booked their tickets.

Indeed, the other eight group winners will seal automatic qualification for Qatar 2022, while another 10 nations will advance to March's play-offs as the runners-up.

The 10 second-placed teams will be joined by the two best group winners from the 2020-21 Nations League who have neither already qualified nor sealed a play-off spot via the group stage.

With plenty of excitement and drama guaranteed, Stats Perform takes a closer look at the most eye-catching fixtures, permutations and milestones.  

800 up for Ronaldo?

Another day and another milestone approaches for Cristiano Ronaldo, who is just two goals away from taking his career tally to 800.

The Portugal skipper could hit the landmark when his country face the Republic of Ireland on Thursday – failing that, they host Serbia three days later.

Should Portugal take maximum points at the Aviva Stadium, Fernando Santos’ men would then guarantee top spot in Group A by avoiding defeat against Serbia on Sunday.

 

Deja vu for Italy?

The reigning European champions missed out on the finals last time around, sparking a cultural reset that ultimately culminated in their brilliant Euro 2020 success earlier this year. But their place in Qatar is still far from secure.

Level on points with Switzerland at the top of Group C with two games remaining, the Azzurri must beat the Swiss when they face off on Friday and avoid defeat against Northern Ireland three days later to guarantee qualification. 

Four years ago they were fell to Sweden in the play-offs – failure this time around would be an even bigger shock.

Work to do for the Dutch

The Netherlands were also absent from Russia in 2018 and, despite leading Group G, they are not home and dry just yet.

Louis van Gaal’s side travel to Montenegro on Saturday while second-placed Norway host Latvia.

Just two points separate the top two, who lock horns at De Kuip on Tuesday in a game that will more than likely decide who wins the group.

Spain to avert Swede success?

The 2010 World Cup winners are not yet guaranteed a top-two finish in Group B, although they will be by avoiding defeat away to Greece on Thursday.

Spain are two points behind leaders Sweden, who travel to Georgia on the same day. They go head-to-head in what will surely be the group decider on Sunday, assuming they take maximum points three days earlier. 

 

France looking to avoid the Blues

The reigning world champions and recently crowned Nations League winners are not quite over the line in Group D, despite holding a three-point advantage and game in hand over second-placed Ukraine.

However, Les Bleus will secure top spot with a win over Kazakhstan on Saturday or, failing that, taking maximum points away to Finland on Tuesday. 

Who will top Group H?

Russia and Croatia are guaranteed top-two finishes in Group H, but with just two points separating them, the identity of the group winners is still very much up in the air.

After facing Cyprus and Malta respectively on Thursday, the two nations collide in Split on Sunday with one of them booking a place in Qatar and the other heading for the play-offs.

Second place up for grabs in Group J

Eight points clear of the chasing pack in Group J, Germany secured qualification with flying colours. But the battle for second place is not quite as straightforward.

Occupying second are Romania (13 points), followed closely by North Macedonia and Armenia (both 12), while Iceland (eight) still have an outside chance as well.

Armenia and North Macedonia face off on Thursday with Romania hosting Iceland.

The group then reaches its climax three days later as North Macedonia and Iceland lock horns, while Armenia host Germany and Romania travel to Liechtenstein – expect a rollercoaster ride in Group J!

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has called up Atalanta's Matteo Pessina and Lazio midfielder Danilo Cataldi to his latest squad after losing Roma duo Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo to injury.

The European champions face Switzerland and Northern Ireland in their final two qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and currently sit top of Group C on goal difference, level on 14 points with the Swiss ahead of their crucial encounter in Rome on Friday.

Mancini, who is already without Marco Verratti due to a hip injury, confirmed earlier on Monday at a media conference that Pellegrini (knee) and Zaniolo (calf) will return to their club.

"Zaniolo was a bit unlucky because he suffered two serious injuries. He is young and he has the qualities to get over it," he said.

"It could have been an important game for him, but he has a problem and we can't take any risk. I don't think he needs my advice, he has the quality and he can improve in everything.

"We will surely replace them [Pellegrini and Zaniolo] because we also need to assess [Nicolo] Barella. We didn't call Pessina because he is not ready."

Despite this, Mancini ultimately did decide to turn to Pessina, as well as Cataldi, who receives his first senior call-up since 2017 after a solid start to the season at Lazio.

The former Manchester City manager did have better news about his defence, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci appearing to be fit to play despite missing Juventus' 1-0 win against Fiorentina at the weekend.

"They feel well, we have a training session today. We'll see how everyone feels." 

Can Cataldi step up for the Azzurri?

While Mancini is suffering from something of a midfield crisis, having players with the quality of Pessina and Cataldi to call on is not a bad problem to have.

It may be the first call-up for Cataldi in over four years, but he has achieved it off the back of some eye-catching performances at club level for Maurizio Sarri's men.

When measured against Pellegrini, whose role he will fill, Cataldi leads the way in pass success percentage (91.2), albeit the 27-year-old has only started four of his 10 league appearances, while the Roma captain has started 11.

Cataldi also has a superior pass completion rate in the opposition half, with 84.7 per cent compared to Pellegrini's 79.7, so his numbers do not appear to be indicative of him only playing easy passes.

Whether Cataldi gets an opportunity to win only his second cap remains to be seen, but he has clearly caught the eye of Mancini at least.

New Zealand extended their 100 per cent winning record against Italy to 15 games as they scored a crushing 47-9 win in Rome – setting a record for the most points in a calendar year.

The visitors, who named an entirely different line-up to the side that swept past Wales last week in Cardiff, were held scoreless in an error-strewn opening 25 minutes. However, the eventual drubbing meant New Zealand took their 2021 points haul to 675, beating the previous best of 658 set in 2007 by South Africa.

Finlay Christie broke the deadlock when he scrambled in after the All Blacks pushed the Azzurri back at a scrum. Dane Coles added a second moments later as New Zealand power won out again, and the same player grabbed a third shortly before half-time too.

Italy, in action for the first time since losing all five of their games in a dismal Six Nations showing, had new coach Kieran Crowley – a former All Blacks full-back– at the helm.

A pair of penalties from Paolo Garbisi put them on the board, and he added a third after the interval to briefly trim New Zealand's lead to 12 points, but Sevu Reece bounded through tiring blue jerseys for a fourth All Blacks try just after the hour, with Asafo Aumua grabbing a late close-range double and Hoskins Sotutu dashing down the wing to pile on the points.

Richie Mo'unga missed the conversion attempt from Aumua's second try, having successfully booted the extras for each of the previous five-pointers.

New Zealand, having beaten the United States, Wales and now Italy, face two more games on their tour, against Ireland in Dublin next Saturday, followed by France on November 20 in Paris.

Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo have returned to Italy's squad for their next World Cup qualifiers, while Torino midfielder Tommaso Pobega has earned a first call-up.

Roberto Mancini's men face Switzerland at Stadio Olimpico next Friday in a likely shootout for top spot in Group C, with the sides level on 14 points.

The Azzurri then round off their Qatar 2022 group qualifying campaign with a match in Northern Ireland three days later.

Milan midfielder Tonali is part of Mancini's 28-man squad for the double-header, a year on from the most recent of his four senior caps, with Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti out injured.

Zaniolo is back involved after a shorter absence from the team, meanwhile, the Roma attacker having missed out on the squad for October's Nations League Finals games.

Pobega is the only new face in the Italy contingent after impressing for Torino, where he is on a season-long loan from Milan.

The 22-year-old, yet to make a senior appearance for the Rossoneri, has two goals and an assist in nine Serie A outings this term.

Elsewhere, Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile are back from injury, but this final international window of the year has come too soon for Moise Kean to return.

Italy are back in qualifying action after their hopes of Nations League success were ended with a 2-1 loss to Spain in last month's semi-finals.

That ended the European champions' world-record run of 37 games unbeaten, but they ​bounced back with a 2-1 victory over Belgium to clinch third place.


Italy squad: Cragno (Cagliari), Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Meret (Napoli), Sirigu (Genoa); Acerbi (Lazio), Bastoni (Inter), Biraghi (Fiorentina), Bonucci (Juventus), Calabria (Milan), Chiellini (Juventus), Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Palmieri (Lyon), Mancini (Roma); Barella (Inter), Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Locatelli (Juventus), Pellegrini (Roma), Pobega (Torino), Tonali (Milan), Zaniolo (Roma); Belotti (Torino), Berardi (Sassuolo), Bernardeschi (Juventus), Chiesa (Juventus), Immobile (Lazio), Insigne (Napoli), Raspadori (Sassuolo).

Jorginho is dreaming of winning the World Cup with Italy while he played down the potential of him winning the Ballon d'Or.

The Chelsea midfielder enjoyed glory for club and country after winning the Champions League with Thomas Tuchel's men and Euro 2020 with Italy, becoming just the 10th player to achieve the double in the same year.

His performances across the two competitions led him to be named the UEFA Men's Player of the Year in August as the award's top three was comprised exclusively of midfielders for the first time in 11 years.

Indeed, at the European Championships across June and July, Jorginho topped Italy's charts for recoveries (48) and interceptions (25) while only Spain's Aymeric Laporte (644) made more successful passes than the 29-year-old's 484.

With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in his sights, Jorginho described winning the tournament as his lifelong ambition while remaining unsure on who would claim the Ballon d'Or.

"I don't know honestly. If you don't dream anymore you can stop playing football," Jorginho responded to Sky Sport Italia when asked about the individual award.

"My dream is to win the next match. Then I dream of the World Cup, who is the child who has never dreamed of it?

"I never imagined I would get this far, but I dreamed and all I've done is to chase my dream, now I'm living it and I'm proud.

"I am happy to give my family pride. And another dream could come true in the winter of 2022."

The midfielder has enjoyed another positive start to the new Premier League term with Chelsea, who sit a point clear at the top of the league after nine games.

Jorginho ranks sixth for minutes played under Tuchel in the top flight this term, racking up 559 minutes of action, and ranks fourth for successful passes (363) as he remains the Blues' pivot between attack and defence.

When asked about his club form, Jorginho replied: "We are on the right path, we are working hard, and we must continue like this.

"The more you work together, the more you understand what you need to do, learning new movements and creating an increasingly winning mentality.

"All this gives you solidity, confidence and makes you grow as a group. And that's what's happening at Chelsea."

England have been hit with a two-game stadium ban – one of which is deferred for two years – as punishment for the crowd trouble inside and outside Wembley Stadium during their Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy.

July's clash, which Italy won on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra-time, was overshadowed by serious disturbances as ticketless supporters fought with stewards in an attempt to enter the stadium.

UEFA opened an investigation into the matter in August and announced on Monday that England must play their next match in UEFA competition behind closed doors, which is expected to be their opening 2022-23 Nations League game.

The Three Lions have also been fined £84,500 (€100,000) for the fans' disorder, which also included invading the pitch, throwing objects and jeering during Italy's national anthem.

"Although we are disappointed with the verdict, we acknowledge the outcome," England's Football Association said in a statement on Monday.

"We condemn the terrible behaviour of the individuals who caused the disgraceful scenes in and around Wembley Stadium at the Euro 2020 final, and we deeply regret that some of them were able to enter the stadium.

"We are determined that this can never be repeated, so we have commissioned an independent review, led by Baroness Casey, to report on the circumstances involved.

"We continue to work with the relevant authorities in support of their efforts to take action against those responsible and hold them to account."

Arrigo Sacchi is not surprised Gianluigi Donnarumma was jeered on his return to San Siro after suggesting the Italy goalkeeper "betrayed" Milan by joining Paris Saint-Germain.

Donnarumma arrived at the Ligue 1 giants on a free transfer in July after reaching the end of his Milan contract and failing to agree fresh terms with his boyhood club.

The 22-year-old made 251 appearances for Milan between emerging through their youth ranks in 2015 at the age of 16 and departing for PSG three months ago.

Donnarumma's reluctance to sign a new deal at San Siro, thus meaning Milan received no transfer fee, angered some supporters of his former club.

A section of Milan fans inside San Siro made that frustration known when whistling the young keeper every time he touched the ball for Italy in last week's Nations League semi-final loss to Spain.

Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini criticised the supporters who booed their former hero, but Milan great Sacchi can understand the reaction.

"I have never jeered anyone in my life, but at times people do go looking for these insults," he said at the Festival dello Sport event in Trento.

"Evidently, there was a betrayal. In football and in everyday life, betrayal has to be repaid in kind. So let's not be shocked by a few jeers."

 

Despite his young age, Donnarumma has already appeared 218 times in Serie A and Ligue 1 combined since making his Milan debut in October 2015.

Only Samir Handanovic (219) and Inaki Williams (220) have featured more regularly in Europe's top five leagues across that period.

Donnarumma has kept 72 clean sheets in those 218 league games and has a save percentage of 72.72.

Eleven others to have played at least 100 times in that timeframe rank higher in that metric than Donnarumma, with Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak (78.87) leading the way.

He earned his 38th cap for Italy in Sunday's 2-1 win over Belgium as the Azzurri finished third in the Nations League.

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois criticised UEFA and FIFA for their attitude towards player welfare due to the number of fixtures being crammed into the calendar.

The 29-year-old was speaking on the back of his national side's 2-1 loss to Italy in the Nations League third-place play-off on Sunday.

Both teams rested a number of players for the match at the Allianz Stadium, with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard absent for Belgium due to muscular problems.

Courtois also played a full part in the semi-final defeat to France three days earlier and has questioned why his side had to face Italy in what he felt was a meaningless match.

"This game is just a money game and we have to be honest about it," he said in his post-match interview. "We just play it because for UEFA it's extra money.

"Look at how much both teams changed [line-ups]. If both teams would have been in the final, there would have been other players in the final playing.

"This just shows that we play too many games."

The international calendar is potentially facing further changes, with a biennial World Cup being proposed by FIFA's head of global development Arsene Wenger.

UEFA has already made clear it is against the plans and Courtois has added his name to a growing list of dissenters.

"They [UEFA] made an extra trophy [the Europa Conference League]… it is always the same," he said.

"They can be angry about other teams wanting a Super League, but they don't care about the players, they just care about their pockets.

"It's a bad thing that players are not spoken about. And now you hear about a European Championship and a World Cup every year, when will we get a rest? Never."

Courtois added: "In the end top players will get injured and injured and injured. It's something that should be much better and much more taken care of.

"We are not robots! It's just more and more games and less rest for us and nobody cares about us.

"Next year we have a World Cup in November, we have to play until the latter stages of June again. We will get injured! Nobody cares about the players anymore.

"Three weeks of holiday is not enough for players to be able to continue for 12 months at the highest level. If we never say anything it [will be] always the same."

Roberto Martinez said it is "difficult for me to talk about rumours" after addressing speculation he could replace Ronald Koeman as Barcelona boss.

Martinez saw his Belgium side defeated 2-1 by Italy in Sunday's Nations League third-place play-off, having lost to the Azzurri by the same scoreline in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

Speaking after Sunday's game, Martinez was asked about links to Barca, with Koeman's position under threat after an indifferent start in LaLiga this season and back-to-back 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League.

"It's difficult for me to talk about rumours. I've been working with this team for five years and am fully concentrated on this role," Martinez told reporters post-match.

"We came to the Nations League to win it and did not manage that, but now we prepare for World Cup qualifying. I have nothing more to add."

Nicolo Barella's goal and a Domenico Berardi penalty were enough for Italy to defeat Belgium, for whom Charles De Ketelaere's first international goal was not enough to mount a comeback.

It marked the first time Belgium have suffered back-to-back competitive defeats since September 2010 and Martinez, whose team let a two-goal lead slip against France in the semi-final on Thursday, was left frustrated.

"The penalty was a debatable decision and one that frankly I do not agree with. I try to be respectful with the referee, but you need experience at a tournament of this level," he added.

"We are very frustrated by VAR intervening against France, saying referees ought to be given responsibility for their decisions, but why didn't the VAR intervene today when the referee needed help? The frustration grew as the game wore on."

Substitute Kevin de Bruyne, who assisted De Ketelaere's late consolation goal, was also disappointed but felt the experience has been good for some of Belgium's younger squad members.

"We did well at times against some top teams and had many new faces who did more than a decent job today," De Bruyne told Belgian outlet HNL.

"It's a good experience for them to be able to play against opponents of this calibre, but unfortunately we lost twice.

"With all due respect, playing against Estonia is not the same thing and these challenges are necessary for us to grow, both as individuals and as a team.

"We are 'just' Belgium. It's a new generation, we were missing Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard today, so we have to be realistic about the team we have.

"Italy, France and Spain have 22 top players to choose from and we do not."

Nicolo Barella and Domenico Berardi struck in the second half as Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 to claim third place at the 2021 Nations League Finals on Sunday.

Roberto Martinez's side, who let slip a two-goal lead to lose to France on Thursday, were denied twice by the woodwork either side of Barella's volley, which gave the reigning European champions the lead just a minute after the interval.

Berardi then scored from the penalty spot to add a second for Roberto Mancini's team, who had their record 37-game unbeaten run ended by Spain in Wednesday's semi-final, before Charles de Ketelaere netted a late consolation.

Italy banished any demons after their first competitive loss on home soil since 1999 while Belgium - having faltered in a Euro 2020 quarter-final against the same opponents - may now have to wait until the 2022 World Cup to inflict revenge.

Federico Chiesa blasted the first chance of the contest narrowly over from a tight angle before a deflected effort from Berardi was parried away by Thibaut Courtois.

Toby Alderweireld's near-post header then forced Gianluigi Donnarumma's first save, but the Italy goalkeeper could only stand and watch as Alexis Saelemaekers curled onto the crossbar moments later.

Barella responded by sending a speculative long-range effort over before Chiesa was excellently denied by Courtois' legs on the stroke of half-time.

Courtois, however, was no match for Barella's right-footed volley straight after the break, the midfielder finding the bottom corner to open the scoring.

Michy Batshuayi almost immediately drew Belgium level, his right-footed drive cannoning into the bar, before Timothy Castagne needlessly fouled Chiesa to concede a penalty, one Berardi converted despite Courtois getting a hand to the effort.

Yannick Carrasco struck the right-hand post and while De Ketelaere did roll through Donnarumma's legs to score, Belgium could were unable to find a late leveller.

Jorginho is dreaming of winning the Ballon d'Or as Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini insisted no one is more "deserving" than the Chelsea and Italy star.

Having won Euro 2020 with Italy after helping Chelsea to Champions League glory last season, Jorginho is among the nominees for this year's Ballon d'Or, alongside the likes of Paris Saint-Germain superstar and Copa America winner Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.

Jorginho already received the UEFA Men's Player of the Year prize following his exploits for club and country.

"Ballon d'Or? That's the dream of every child in the world," Jorginho told reporters ahead of Sunday's Nations League third-place play-off against Belgium.

"I learnt that dreaming little things and big things is exactly the same. So, I prefer to dream big things."

"It would be incredible," the 29-year-old midfielder continued. "I can't find words to explain it. I could never imagine it when I start my career. But now I'm so close and that's really incredible, I feel so good."

Jorginho added: "Things are changing fast. I worked very hard with Chelsea and Italy, then this perfect season happened.

"Everyone helped me. I do not feel pressure, to be honest. I'm calm because everyone believes in me. I'm happy."

Italy boss Mancini also endorsed Jorginho for the prized individual honour, telling a news conference: "They were nominated because they are good players and not because of me.

"If I have to choose one, I'd give it to Jorginho because he won Champions League, Euro Cup and FA Cup. He deserves it, I do not see anyone deserving it more than him."

Belgium's Nations League hopes fell flat on Thursday, but Yannick Carrasco insists the squad still have faith they can achieve glory at the 2022 World Cup.

The world's number one ranked team squandered a two-goal lead as France came back to win 3-2 in their semi-final clash in Turin, Theo Hernandez scoring the crucial fifth goal of a thrilling contest in the 90th minute.

Instead of heading to San Siro to face Spain in the final, Belgium are instead back at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday, going up against European champions Italy in a third-place play-off.

It is the second such match during Roberto Martinez's tenure, the Barcelona-linked coach having previously guided Belgium to the semi-finals of World Cup 2018, where they also fell foul of France.

Belgium defeated England to claim third place in Russia, before reaching the quarter-finals at Euro 2020. Sunday's opponents Italy beat them there.

When asked if Belgium's squad still held belief in their ability to challenge at next year's World Cup in Qatar, Atletico Madrid winger Carrasco turned the tables on the media.

"Do we believe that we can win a prize in Qatar? We always believe in ourselves," he told a news conference.

"But do you still believe in us? Because we don't have that feeling. We know that we have a good team, that we can do something beautiful.

"On Friday, the coach showed what we did well and what we did badly.

"That is necessary to prepare for Qatar. A year is not long with the national team, we will use the match against France to get better."

 

Martinez, meanwhile, said a new cycle had now started for Belgium as they look to build towards the World Cup, which arguably presents the final chance for the Red Devils' 'golden generation' to claim a trophy.

He said: "A new cycle has started, that of preparing for the World Cup.

"Over the past five years we have created a style of play. Multiple players can bring what the team needs but our style of play goes beyond individuals. 

"We have been number one in the world for three years. Of course that is important. We want to remain number one. But our main motivation is to get better. The second half against France showed we are not the finished product."

Belgium will be out for revenge against the Azzurri, aiming to at least end their Nations League campaign on a high. However, they will be without Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, who have both been withdrawn due to what Martinez described as "muscle overload".

"I cannot say," Martinez said when asked if the duo would be fit for their clubs next week. "That is a question for the medical department. But it is definitely about overload and not injury."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini criticised fans in Milan for choosing to jeer goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in 2-1 Nations League semi-final loss to Spain, saying the national team comes above all else.

Donnarumma left Serie A outfit Milan for Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in the off-season, prompting some fans to jeer him every time he touched the ball upon his return to San Siro for the first time since the move.

The 21-year-old star was hardly impacted by the frequent jeers on Wednesday and whistled although he fumbled a routine take from Marcos Alonso's shot on to the post in the first half.

"For sure [Donnarumma] wasn't happy about the whistles during the first half but what could we do?," Mancini said during his post-game news conference.

"We are all adults and we have to accept also this situation and in the end I think Gigio despite that played a good game. It certainly won't have pleased him, just as it did not please us. Gigio did well."

Mancini added: "Donnarumma played for Italy and it was not a club game. This situation could have been put aside for one night and [they could have] whistled [at him] in a possible PSG vs Milan [match]. Italy are Italy and come above all else."

The defeat ended the European champions' record 37-game unbeaten run, as well as their bid to add the Nations League title to their Euro 2020 crown.

Italy's undefeated streak dated back to September 2018, when they went down 1-0 to Portugal in a Nations League group game in Lisbon.

"It would have been better not to suffer this defeat but we knew that sooner or later eventually we would have to lose a game," Mancini said. "It is better for it to come tonight than in the final of the Euros or the World Cup.

"I believe though that this game makes us even stronger despite the defeat and allows us to understand that we are truly a great team."

Italy's hopes of victory were not helped by captain Leonardo Bonucci's second yellow card in the first half, with Ferran Torres' two goals coming either side of his 42nd-minute sending off.

Bonucci was initially booked on the half hour for dissent before a second yellow card for a raised elbow in an aerial challenge with Sergio Busquets.

"About Leo, he was a bit naive tonight and in this type of game you cannot make these mistakes," Mancini said.

"It's true that the red card had an impact on the rest of match. Until that moment Spain had more ball possession which is what they are used to. We were in a bit of difficulty, but we could have ended the first half at 1-1.

"We should not have conceded the second goal at the end of the first half. We should have paid more attention for their second goal. It's already difficult to face Spain with 11 players but when you are one man down it becomes much more complicated."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed Gavi's performance after his record-breaking debut in Spain's 2-1 Nations League semi-final victory over Italy on Wednesday.

Gavi became Spain's youngest ever player, aged 17 years and 62 days, in the clash at San Siro.

The Barcelona midfielder completed 94.3 per cent of his passes in the opposition's half – a total only bettered by one other Spanish starter – while he contested a game-high 19 duels and made more tackles (four) than any team-mate.

He looked at home on the big stage, and Luis Enrique compared his display to the kind he might serve up in his garden at home.

"He plays like he does at school or in the garden of his house, and it is a pleasure to have a player of this quality and personality," he told reporters.

Spain's victory ended Italy's world-record 37-match unbeaten run and booked a spot in Sunday's Nations League final where they will play France or Belgium, who face off in Thursday's other semi-final.

The triumph was sealed by two goals from Manchester City forward Ferran Torres either side of Leonardo Bonucci's dismissal for the Azzurri before half-time.

 

Lorenzo Pellegrini pulled one back for Roberto Mancini's side late on, but La Roja held firm to record a memorable win against the side who beat them in the Euro 2020 semi-final in July.

"We have once again created chances, and we have overcome them," Luis Enrique added.

"It was a very good game with two sides showing their best. It is very difficult with only one-and-a-half training sessions to transmit what you want, but the players have been very involved, as always.

"The best thing since I've been with the national team is that we've managed to play our game, regardless of the rival and the tournament. I am privileged, because I have a list of 40 or 50 extraordinary players."

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