MILAN • Portugal coach Fernando Santos enjoyed his team's "very satisfying" development to the League of Nations semi-final after a goalless draw with Italy at the San Siro on Saturday.
European champions became the first team to do so – although there was no captain and male star Cristiano Ronaldo – and qualified with one match to play, with Santos happy that his team managed to navigate their way through a "very difficult match".
"To be present in the final phase of this competition is always important for Portugal; showing the quality of Portuguese football," he told reporters. "It's fair, with more suffering than I expected. The first half was very difficult, we had a lot of difficulty adapting, especially for defensive actions."
Although their final match against Poland at Guimaraes tomorrow is no more than a dead rubber match – the opposition has been relegated to Liga B – Santos still wants his team to perform well in front of hopeful home fans.
"The last match against Poland will be important because it will be in front of our supporters, who are always with us. We must have a great match and win," he added.
Santos also touched on the disappearance of Ronaldo, who was taking a break from international football, and claimed that the attackers were still an integral part of national arrangements.
"There are no questions to ask. Ronaldo is part of this team, only reading the posts he wrote," Santos said, referring to his Twitter post to wish his team mates were successful.
Italy finished second in the group after Roberto Mancini's team failed to find a victory to keep their hopes of progressing to the last four tournaments, which will take place next June, live.
Despite pushing Portugal for more than an hour in front of a 73,000-strong crowd, Italy could not find their way through and there were nuances of deja vu, with the deadlock echoing the play-offs against Sweden last year, when they also could not break the deadlock and fail to reach the Cup. The world in Russia.
The Portuguese have beaten Italy 1-0 in Lisbon in the final match in September and endured initial pressure from the hosts, led by captain Giorgio Chiellini at the 100th appearance, with Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile both close in the first round.
But the far side developed into the game after the break and carved out their own chances as William Carvalho was denied by Gianluigi Donnarumma while substitute Joao Mario was fired over the crossbar.
And Mancini complained of Italy's inability to take their chances despite their "dominance" even though he was entertained by signs of progress he had seen after the Azzurri maintained their record of never being beaten at AC Milan and Inter Milan headquarters.
"We played a very good match but didn't score, which is an important detail," said the former Manchester City boss, who was appointed in May.
"Even if we are disappointed not to win, we have everything and, little by little, we will also put the attack in its place."
Chiellini, whose team will play a friendly against the United States in Belgium tomorrow, agreed with his manager, said: "We have a basis, problems not scoring will improve over time."