Looking for payback
And Bonucci warned: “We’re expecting a different Spain side with respect to the one we faced at the Euros.
“They will have fresh motivation, they’ll be in a new state of mind and looking to avenge their Euro 2016 defeat.
“We have to step up a gear with respect to how we played against Israel.”
Asked if Spain were favourites, he added: “Totally, yes. And if we’re to upset predictions we’ll have to play like we did at the Euros, with pace, commitment and by being clinical in front of goal.”
Barcelona and Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets admitted yesterday: “At the Euros we made a few slips but now it is time for revenge. Qualification for the World Cup is at stake here.”
Expectations that Spain and Italy will stick to the form book and take maximum points from remaining home and away fixtures against Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Israel and Albania remain high.
With only the group winners progressing automatically to the finals in Russia, that means Italy and Spain’s direct encounters take on special importance.
And if Ventura ever needed reminding, Busquets added: “It’s not a decisive match for either of us, but it is important to fight for the top spot, especially as we’re the strongest sides in the group.” himself down in a quick turnaround before Japan, but he can seek solace in the fact he has won in Japan three times and will be chasing a hattrick of wins – and the 50th of his F1 career – in Suzuka on Sunday.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff called Hamilton’s engine trouble “a freaky coincidence” and challenged Hamilton to bounce back in the title run-in.
“Our guys will get to the bottom of what happened and learn from it,” he promised. “But I want to focus on how Lewis responds in the aftermath. We let him down today and we are beating up ourselves about it.”
After composing himself, Hamilton said: “I honestly feel that it’s a test of my will, my spirit and who I am as a person to get back in and keep fighting it head on. It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up.”
During a turbulent weekend here, Hamilton had also moaned about the “psychological effects” of breaking up his title-winning crew by switching five mechanics to Rosberg’s side of the garage.
Wolff took a dim view of Hamilton’s renewed criticism of a Mercedes decision Ventura, who suffered a 3-1 friendly defeat to France on his maiden outing as Italy coach, is under no illusions as he prepares to face off against a coach who, he says, has given Spain fresh energy and conviction. “They’re the strongest opponents in the group,” he said. “Since Lopetegui took over they’ve changed the way they play, and their approach to games. He’s given them an adrenaline boost, and conviction. “It’s a delicate game for us, an important test. I’m pretty convinced that to win, we’ll need a special kind of performance. “It won’t be enough to play well 60% of the time, it has to be 99%.” – AFP taken at the start of the season.
“There is no Team Hamilton and no Team Rosberg,” he said, using a football analogy to underline his point.
“No footballer would tell Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola who he’d like to play with. It’s the manager’s call to decide who is in the squad.”
After a year plagued by technical gremlins, time is running out for the 2014 and 2015 champion Hamilton to quash Rosberg’s attempt to dethrone him.
The German is in the form of his life and fought back to finish third here following a first-corner collision with Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari.
Ricciardo will be looking to build on his first victory in two years, insisting the Red Bulls can pose a threat in what is forecast to be a wet race in Japan.
“I actually think we will be more competitive at Suzuka,” said the Australian, who came home ahead of 19-year-old teammate Max Verstappen at Sepang.
“If it rains I believe we can win the race. If it’s dry, Mercedes would be favourites.” – AFP
Petronas Mercedes F1 driver Lewis Hamilton leaves his car after an engine failure during the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang last Sunday.