Italy is finally showing signs of emerging from its crisis, nearly a year after failing to qualify for the World Cup.
Cristiano Biraghi’s goal in stoppage time earned the Azzurri a much-needed 1-0 win in Poland on Sunday in the UEFA Nations League.
Playing in Group 3 of League A, Poland became the first team to be relegated in the new European competition.
Italy also hit the crossbar twice in the first half, first with Jorginho then with Lorenzo Insigne.
Still, the match appeared headed for a scoreless draw until Biraghi slid in to redirect a corner inside the far post two minutes into injury time.
“We dominated the game completely and should have scored earlier,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said. “A 0-0 would have been an unfair result. We played very well but we can still improve a lot. In football you only need time and hard work; magicians do not exist.”
It was the first national team goal for Biraghi, a full back at Fiorentina.
Biraghi celebrated by making a No. 13 with his fingers, a dedication to former Fiorentina captain and Italy defender Davide Astori, who died from cardiac arrest in March.
Astori wore the No. 13 shirt.
“Astori is a part of me,” Biraghi said. “I dedicate my goal to him because if I’m here it is only thanks to him and all the things he taught me when we played together.”
It was Italy’s first competitive victory in more than a year, since beating Albania 1-0 in World Cup qualifying last October.
It also ended a five-match winless streak in all competitions and gave Italy a slim chance to catch group leader Portugal.
Portugal leads with six points, two ahead of Italy, while Poland is last with one.
Italy hosts Portugal in its next and final match but then Portugal has another game at home against Poland.
World Cup quarterfinalist Russia needs only one more point to be promoted into League A following a 2-0 win over visiting Turkey in Sochi with goals in the Group 2 game from Roman Neustadter and substitute Denis Cheryshev.
Turkey will be relegated from League B if it loses to Sweden on Nov. 17, while Russia can move up with a draw in Sweden three days later.
A long pass from goalkeeper Ariel Harush set up Israel’s first goal by Tomer Hemed in a 2-0 win over visiting Albania in League C.
Harush also made a series of saves before Israel got its second from Dia Seba.
Israel is three points ahead of Scotland and Albania atop Group 1.
Also in League C, Romania played the entire second half with 10 men and still drew 0-0 with Serbia.
Serbia, which had captain Dusan Tadic miss a penalty, stayed atop Group 4, one point ahead of Montenegro, which won 4-1 in Lithuania.
Romania is two points back.
Kosovo held on for a 1-1 draw in the Faeroe Islands to remain unbeaten atop Group 3 in League D.
After Milot Rashica’s early opener, Rene Joensen equalized after the break for the Faeroes.
In the same group, Azerbaijan and Malta also played to a 1-1 draw, with Araz Abdullayev’s second-half equalizer canceling out Rowen Muscat’s opener for Malta.unb