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