Forwards fire without Balotelli in Conte's quiet opening night

The new coach got off to a winning start at the San Nicola but there is little that he will have learned from a non-event of a debut, save for his strikers' encouraging link-up
By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent

It is difficult to take too much from a friendly international at the best of times but Antonio Conte will find it extra-hard to learn any long-term lessons from his first game in charge of Italy.

The 2-0 victory over Netherlands in Bari was always going to be something of a non-event once Bruno Martins Indi had been shown a ninth-minute red card with his side already trailing and about to face a penalty.

From there the game was over as a contest and any hope of either Conte or Guus Hiddink discovering anything telling about their new charges was just about extinguished. It was only natural that the Netherlands boss should use the rest of the fixture as a glorified defensive training drill.

The Azzurri had started fast, taking a deserved third-minute lead and keeping their foot on the accelerator from there.

Leonardo Bonucci's rudimentary long ball was somehow completely misread by the Dutch defence, allowing Ciro Immobile in behind Martins Indi. He then rounded the advancing Jasper Cillessen before tucking home his first goal in full internationals.

Italy coaches' debuts

W 2-0
Dino Zoff
v Wales (1998)
D 2-2
Giovanni Trapattoni
v Hungary (2000)
L 0-2
Marcello Lippi
v Iceland (2004)
L 0-2
Roberto Donadoni
v Croatia (2006)
L 0-1 Cesare Prandelli
v Cote d'Ivoire (2010)
W 2-0
Antonio Conte
v Netherlands (2014)
Martins Indi wouldn't learn his lesson, though, as within six minutes he had allowed Simone Zaza to gain territory in behind. He had little choice but to bring down the Sassuolo striker, leaving the referee with the simple decision of awarding a penalty and a red card. Daniele De Rossi's spot kick effectively ended the game.

From there it was only ever going to be about players attempting to impress the new boss but, even then, Conte will have taken much of what he saw with a pinch of salt given the lack of numbers in the opposition ranks.

One thing by which he will have been impressed was his forward line. Debutant Zaza was paired up with Immobile, who found playing alongside Mario Balotelli difficult after former coach Cesare Prandelli had admitted that the two were not suited. With Zaza, though, he had more success.

Zaza should have buried a chance on the break from Immobile's pass but tried too hard to serve his left foot in the right channel and allowed Cillessen to block as a result. There were further examples of the two working well together later, though, with Zaza nodding on a high ball for Immobile to just miss at the far post.

Where Italy have looked slow and laboured in the area in recent times, suddenly they looked sharp and hungry. The Balotelli effect was as well identified in his absence as it can be in his brilliance.

Behind the front two the midfield did exactly what they had to do up against 10 men, moving the ball around quickly and forcing the Netherlands midfield to do plenty of chasing. Meanwhile, the back three also had a much more straightforward evening than they would have expected, with only the occasional glimpse at goal for Robin van Persie of any concern.

There was a huge emphasis on pressing high, just as Conte influenced Juventus to do much the same, but it is a form of play that is much easier to pull off against 10 men.

Tuesday's visit to Oslo for the opening fixture of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign will hand Italy a much more serious test of their credentials, even if much of the pressure is off thanks to the possibility of qualifying from third place.

That he goes into his first competitive fixture in charge with a win under his belt will be of some comfort to Conte but he would be the first to admit that his debut as coach was about as easy as international football is likely to get.