Diego Costa in line to lead Spain’s at­tack against Italy

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

It would have been the game of the week any­way, but this meet­ing of in­ter­na­tional football roy­alty in Turin is all the richer be­cause of the sub-plots to this par­tic­u­lar fix­ture.

The Span­ish play­ers are look­ing to avenge their Euro 2016 last-16 de­feat to Italy, but even that mo­ti­va­tion is com­pli­cated by the fact that both coun­tries hav­ing changed man­agers.

On that Mon­day in the Stade de France, An­to­nio Conte’s ram­pant Italy made Spain look spent and stale, but the won­der now is whether that has turned.

Conte’s re­place­ment Gi­ampiero Ven­tura hasn’t yet had the same ef­fect with the side, af­ter two laboured per­for­mances in a 3-1 de­feat to France and 3-1 win over Is­rael.

This week Ven­tura praised how Julen Lopetegui had re­stored “adren­a­line and con­vic­tion” to Spain since suc­ceed­ing Vi­cente del Bosque.

The de­posed Euro­pean champions did only beat Lux­em­bourg in the first com­pet­i­tive game of the new regime, but it was im­pos­si­ble not to no­tice more move­ment to the side and a greater in­ten­sity. There was just a dif­fer­ent verve about them.

Italy’s at­tempts to com­bat that will be made more dif­fi­cult by the fact Gior­gio Chiellini is sus­pended, af­ter get­ting sent off in the win over Is­rael.

It is set up for a crack­ing game and one that could go a long way to de­cid­ing top spot in an oth­er­wise for­giv­ing group.

Mean­while, can the French stride for­ward by avoid­ing his­tory’s mis­steps in, France v Bul­garia to­mor­row?

It is one of the most in­fa­mous fix­tures in French football his­tory, and even if this re­match can’t pos­si­bly have the same im­pact, it can be­gin to make an al­ready awk­ward group much tougher for France.

Back in 1993, they were beaten 2-1 at home by Bul­garia in the last minute of the last game of the qual­i­fi­ca­tion group, caus­ing them to miss out on the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Now, the team of Di­dier Deschamps - who played in that game - have started this cam­paign poorly, draw­ing 0-0 in Be­larus in what seemed to be a hang­over from their Euro 2016 de­feat to Por­tu­gal. They could do with An­toine Griez­mann con­tin­u­ing his club form, and get­ting back to scor­ing for his coun­try here. They could also ben­e­fit from find­ing a for­ma­tion that works for them. Oth­er­wise, Bul­garia could once more make things com­pli­cated for them. That is the last thing needed in a group that al­ready in­cludes the Nether­lands and Swe­den. The French go to Am­s­ter­dam af­ter this match.

There is also an acid test in Quito be­tween Ecuador and Chile.

A crunch game for stum­bling Chile - but per­haps more so for their hosts. Ecuador have been one of the most enig­matic sides in the South Amer­i­can qual­i­fiers so far, win­ning their first four matches (in­clud­ing 2-0 away at Ar­gentina) and los­ing their past three. Los Amar­il­los cur­rently sit in fifth spot which would bring a qual­i­fi­ca­tion play-off but have been trend­ing down of late.

We will be told a lot as to whether they can stay there, how­ever, by how they do in to­day’s match at home against the reigning two-time con­ti­nen­tal champions.

Spain’s Diego Costa

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.