The Italy women's national team transformed the unthinkable into reality as they qualified to their first World Cup in 20 years after cruising past Portugal 3-0, with one game to go in their qualification group. Milena Bertolini's team book their tickets to France 2019 through some sensational statistics, including seven wins from as many games played in which they scored 18 and conceded only twice.
Cristiana Girelli, Cecila Salvai and Barbara Bonansea scored the three goals to help Italy dismantle Portugal at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, in front of a 6,000 crowd that saw a debut for goalkeeper Rosalia Pipitone, who replaced the injured Laura Giuliani.
At the back, Sara Gama masterminded the defensive line alongside Cecila Salvai, Elena Bartoli and Alia Guagni with Aurora Galli, Manuela Giugliano and Barbara Bonansea completing the midfield. Upfront it was up to Martina Rosucci, Daniela Sabatino and Cristiana Girelli to create and inspire Italy in front of goal, something they had little trouble with.
The Italians went out all guns blazing in search of an early boost and they managed to draw first blood inside the first four minutes when Girelli connected with a Giugliano's set-piece and sent her towering header into the back of the net. The goal was greeted with relief as the hosts were more at ease in roaming the ball around and preserving their narrow lead.
The Azzurre doubled their lead on 13 minutes when from another corner-kick, this time it was Salvai who sent the ball over goal line, Italy cruising past their opponents. Before the half-time whistle, Italy could have easily scored another couple of goals but they failed to hit the back of the net as they went into their locker rooms two up.
Bonansea steals the show
After the change of ends, Italy started to introduce some new faces on the field in order to maintain the high tempo of the game. While Portugal were struggling to stage any serious reaction, the hosts were threatening on the other side of the field.
Bonansea continued to be the main threat for Italy and the Juventus would could have furthered the lead twice but she was denied by the woodwork.
The vibrant attacker continued to push for a goal but Patricia Morais wasn't giving Bonansea an inch. It wasn't until the dying moments that the former Brescia player received an inviting ball inside the box and without blinking twice, sent the ball into the net to claim a late third, qualification assured.