Fernando Santos has warned Portugal to expect to face an Italy side itching to prove their international “value” in the Nations League.
Portugal will kick-start their campaign in UEFA’s new competition by hosting Italy in Lisbon on Monday, with manager Santos preparing for a tough encounter.
“Italy have enormous desire to show their value, having failed to qualify for the World Cup,” said Portugal coach Santos.
“Just because they were not present at the World Cup does not alter their history.
“This game is part of a new competition and naturally takes on another level of importance.
“It’s hard to talk about favourites in games at this level, they are difficult for any of the teams.”
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Raphael Guerreiro will miss the Estadio da Luz clash due to a thigh injury, but veteran defender Pepe hopes to win his 101st Portugal cap.
Former Real Madrid centre back Pepe scored on his 100th cap as Portugal drew 1-1 with Croatia in Thursday’s friendly, and echoed his boss’ words on the size of the task awaiting against Italy.
“It will be a very difficult game against Italy, a team that likes to give the initiative to the opponent and surprise on the counter-attack,” said Pepe.
“I never thought I could play so many games; we have a risky profession, with injuries, but fortunately I got here.
“The bottom line for that is the work you do with every workout and great attention when it comes to recovering.”
Italy opened their Nations League campaign with a 1-1 draw at home to Poland on Friday, with Jorginho’s second-half penalty earning a share of the spoils for Roberto Mancini’s men.
Now Mancini wants his side to learn from the errors of a sloppy first-half display when facing Portugal.
“In the first-half we made too many technical mistakes and we can’t afford to do that, but the guys were very good in the second-half,” said Mancini, who expects to rotate his squad for the Portugal trip.
“We need to look to get a result (in Portugal) but we’ll certainly make changes because 72 hours to recover isn’t much.
“Mario (Balotelli) needs to play, he’s an experienced forward, of international standard and he just needs to get up to his ideal condition.”