Antonio Conte and Guus Hiddink experienced contrasting fortunes in their first competitive games in charge of Italy and the Netherlands in their respective Euro 2016 qualifiers on Tuesday.
Simone Zaza and Leonardo Bonucci were on target to give Italy a 2-0 win in Norway and make it a dream start for Conte, who replaced Cesare Prandelli after he resigned following the Azzurri’s first-round exit at the World Cup.
The result in Group H also saw the Italians extend their impressive unbeaten record in qualifying to 41 games, stretching back eight years.
Meanwhile, a late goal from Vaclav Pilar saw Hiddink’s Netherlands slip to a 2-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in Prague.
That meant it was a disappointing start to his second spell in charge of the national side for Hiddink, who filled the vacancy left by Louis van Gaal after he led the Oranje to third place at the World Cup.
However, with the top two in each group automatically qualifying for the finals in France and play-offs for the third-placed teams the Dutch should still have no problem in advancing from Group A.
Pressure, though, will be growing on Safet Susic, who was thought fortunate to have survived in the Bosnian job after their disappointing first-round exit at the World Cup finals and a 2-1 home defeat to Cyprus in Group B on Tuesday did him few favours.
Turkey’s coach Fatih Terim may be nicknamed the ‘Emperor’ but his players did not play like Empire builders as they slumped to a 3-0 defeat away to Iceland, who continue to progress after losing out to a World Cup finals place in the play-offs.
— Wales Bale-d out —
Both Susic and Terim could have done with someone of the star quality of Gareth Bale, for the Real Madrid forward came to Wales boss Chris Coleman’s rescue in scoring a double, the second a marvellous free-kick 10 minutes from time, as they came from behind to edge minnows Andorra 2-1.
Andorra — who had not won in 51 competitive fixtures since beating Macedonia in October 2004 — had taken a shock lead early in the Group B encounter in Andorra la Vella as Ildefons Lima converted a sixth-minute penalty, ending an Andorran goal drought in competitive matches stretching back 18 games.
Italy, showing six changes from the side that lost to Uruguay to bow out of the World Cup, have made a promising start under former Juventus coach Conte having also beaten the Dutch 2-0 in a friendly last week.
“In nine days we have already done great things,” Conte told Rai 1 after the game.
“It will not be easy for anyone to come and play in Norway. And I don’t remember (goalkeeper Gianluigi) Buffon getting his gloves dirty, while we created numerous chances.”
The Dutch, who were without Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, looked to have fought their way back into their game in Prague when Stefan de Vrij, one of the outstanding members of their defence in Brazil, headed past Petr Cech from Daley Blind’s cross in the 55th minute.
However, his fellow defender Daryl Janmaat was to unwittingly hand the Czechs the late winner as his ill-judged header back to ‘keeper Jasper Cillessen allowed Pilar to nick in and tap the ball home.
Coleman, whose side’s next games in October are at home to first Bosnia-Herzegovina and then Cyprus, said while the supporters had expected an easy ride he had always been more cirumspect.
“We have a lot of fans here in our hotel and before the game they were saying that they wanted at least three goals – but we knew it would not be easy,” he told Sky Sports.
“Andorra’s record here is not good but they are a fighting nation and I have seen the Netherlands struggle here.
“I can say it now but when we arrived and saw the state of the pitch my heart sank. It shouldn’t be allowed at this level, but we got the three points and everyone else has got to come here and play. It’s a great start for us.”