Italy are now clear second favourites in their race to finish as Pool C runners-up behind the All Blacks after a desperately poor 31-5 win over Portugal on Wednesday.
Despite being on the front foot for most of the match, the Azzurri shortcomings in attack were glaring, and Scotland will be eager to get the All Blacks out of the way and get to Saint Etienne for their match with the Italians now.
This was, from an Italian perspective, as frustrating a performance as they could not have hoped for. At fleeting moments they bordered on the brilliant, but for the whole they teetered just below average. Portugal, for their part, were resolute in defence, and bar one visit to the Azzurri twenty-two in the first half, from which they scored, spent the majority of the game on the back foot.
Positives both sides will take from this, but Italy, vying for a place in the quarter finals will feel the negatives outweigh them by far. It was similar to Scotland's win on Tuesday, with the difference coming in that Portugal were a superior side to Romania, and therein lay Italy's problem.
For long periods they were unable to break down a stubborn and committed Portuguese defence, that, in fairness, worked feverishly until the final whistle. That Italy spent the final four minutes of the game chasing a bonus point score suggests they were worthy of one, but they were not.
Credit must go to Portugal, to bounce back from a hundred-point drubbing is testament to the spirit in their squad. However, as much as they toiled, they were unable to produce enough quality ball to sustain their sporadic attacks. The one meaningful attack they did string together was devastating, and yielded the try it so deserved.
Having failed to produce a performance of note in the tournament to date, Italy came out with all guns blazing. Receiving the kick-off they set a maul and literally ran Portugal back to half-way, and it seemed as if they had been stung into action by the criticism levelled at them. Further evidence of this came after four minutes, in which they kept the ball throughout, when Andrea Masi crossed for the opening score.
Sadly that was where the Italian promise ended, that was until the final ten minutes, and Portugal's dogged defence dominated the game. Chasing a bonus point from the off, Italy tried in vain to score four tries, yet they had to settle for four David Bortolussi penalties and Masi's lone try until the seventy-second minute.
It took Portugal thirty minutes to even enter the Italian twenty-two, but it was worth the wait. Their first attack, sparked by Duarte Cardoso Pinto, led to their only score of the game. The wily fly-half pirouetted through the Italian defence before the ball was sent wide to replacement Diogo Gama who drew the last defender and sent second row David Penalva over for his first international try.
The Azzurri did little to help themselves, often opting to force the pass rather than set another phase, the result was an error count they would have been happy with as a score. It leaves one wondering just who will progress to the quarter-finals, as both Italy and Scotland were as disappointing as each other over the past couple of nights.
A late surge, which saw Italy score two tries, gave them the chance of a bonus point, yet a lack of tactical awareness ensured it was not forthcoming. The first try was just reward for the hard-working Mauro Bergamasco, one of the few players to emerge with credit, although it was the work of his pack that paved the way for his score.
With the bit between their teeth, and spurred on by a passionate Alessandro Troncon, the third try duly followed. With Portugal looking to rush the Italian attack Roland de Marigny spotted the space and floated a deft chip in behind. The rest was simple, Masi won the foot race and grounded for his second score to set up a tense finish.
The following four minutes of chaos left you wondering as to the mindset of Italy. Rather than keeping the ball in hand they instead kicked it away needlessly on several occasions, the final kick resulting in the final whistle. Strange tactics for a side who needed possession to score one more try.
Pierre Berbizier will now be afforded the luxury of a ten-day preparation window before the crucial game against Scotland. On this performance he will need everyone of them.
Where now for Portugal, the side who have won the hearts of every neutral in the land. A final hurrah against Romania, a game you would expect them to win, for they have proved they are a far superior side to the Oaks. And nobody would begrudge them a win in their final game, it will be a fitting end to a campaign that has given so many people so much pleasure.
Man of the Match: Again Portugal fought in a gallant manner, and again everyone of them played a telling part. Vasco Uva is fast growing into a fine player, and the half-back pairing of Duarte Cardoso Pinto and José Pinto were prominent throughout. But, despite a lacklustre display, this award goes the way of an Italian. Mauro Bergamasco was the pick of the forwards, running hard in attack and showing his worth in defence. Alessandro Troncon was solid in his 100th game, but it was David Bortolussi who stood out. Assured under the high ball, settled with the boot and constantly looking for work in attack he was head and shoulders above the rest.
Moment of the Match: David Bortolussi's first penalty. Chasing four tries from the start Italy were soon reduced to kicking at goal and thus evaporated any chance of the bonus point.
Villain of the Match: One could say it was Marco Bortolami for his yellow card, but given that he didn't seem to throw the punch for which he was punished it would be unfair. On that note the game was clean and honest.
Tries: Masi 2, Bergamasco
Cons: Bortolussi 2
Pens: Bortolussi 4
Yellow card: Bortolami (8, Italy, punching)
Italy: 15 David Bortolussi, 14 Pablo Canavosio, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Matteo Pratichetti, 10 Roland de Marigny, 9 Alessandro Troncon, 8 Manoa Vosawai, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Sergio Parisse, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Carlo Del Fava, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Salvatore Perugini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Silvio Orlando, 21 Paul Griffen, 22 Ezio Galon.
Portugal: 15 Pedro Cabral, 14 David Mateus, 13 Federico Sousa, 12 Diogo Mateus, 11 António Aguilar, 10 Duarte Cardoso Pinto, 9 José Pinto, 8 Vasco Uva (c), 7 João Uva, 6 Tiago Girão, 5 Gonçalo Uva, 4 David Penalva, 3 Ruben Spachuck, 2 João Correia, 1 Rui Cordeiro.
Replacements: 16 Juan Manuel Muré, 17 Andre Silva, 18 Duarte Figueiredo, 19 Paulo Murinello, 20 Luis Pissarra, 21 Diogo Gama, 22 Gonçalo Foro.
Referee: Marius Jonker
Touch judges: Federico Cuesta, Malcolm Changleng
Television match official: Paul Marks
Assessor: Steve Hilditch
By Marcus Leach