WORLD CUP

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

ITALY de­fender Leonardo Bonucci ex­pects a “more mo­ti­vated” Spain seek­ing re­venge for their early exit at Euro 2016 when the sides meet in a tan­ta­lis­ing 2018 World Cup qual­i­fier in Turin to­day. Italy host “La Roja” at Ju­ven­tus Sta­dium in what is their first meet­ing since a 2-0 fi­nal-16 de­feat at the Stade de France in June ended Spain’s hopes of a record third con­sec­u­tive Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship crown.

Both sides have since un­der­gone coach­ing changes, Gi­ampiero Ven­tura re­plac­ing An­to­nio Conte at the Italy helm and Julen Lopetegui step­ping in for Vi­cente del Bosque.

While Spain put eight unan­swered goals past Liecht­en­stein in their open­ing Group G qual­i­fier in Leon last month, 10-man Italy re­turned from Is­rael with three hard-earned points from a 3-1 bat­tle in Haifa.

In his sec­ond com­pet­i­tive game in charge, af­ter suc­ceed­ing now-Chelsea man­ager Conte, Ven­tura is surely feel­ing the pres­sure to de­liver.

Asked if Spain were favourites, Bonucci said, “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 mid­fielder Ser­gio Bus­quets said on Oc­to­ber 4, “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 re­main high 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.

With only the group win­ners pro­gress­ing au­to­mat­i­cally to the fi­nals in Rus­sia, that means Italy and Spain’s head-to-head en­coun­ters take on out­sized weight.

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.”

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.”

Af­ter Spain, Italy face Mace­do­nia away on Oc­to­ber 9 in the midst of a hec­tic pe­riod for many mem­bers of his squad per­form­ing club du­ties.

Ven­tura com­plained, “I’m go­ing to have play­ers who will have played seven games in the space of 20 days.”

He is ex­pected to de­ploy Shan­dong Luneng striker Graziano Pelle and Eder of In­ter Mi­lan in at­tack in a pre­ferred 3-5-2.

Ven­tura’s all-Ju­ven­tus de­fen­sive line will be with­out Gior­gio Chiellini as he serves a sus­pen­sion af­ter re­ceiv­ing a red card against Is­rael, mean­ing An­drea Barza­gli and Leonardo Bonucci will welcome AC Mi­lan’s Alessio Ro­mag­noli into the back three.

Real So­ciedad de­fender Inigo Martinez and Manch­ester United’s An­der Her­rera have also been added to the Spain squad in re­cent days, with Bay­ern Munich’s Javi Martinez hav­ing with­drawn due to in­jury. –

Photo: EPA

Spain goal­keeper David De Gea (right) saves a header from Graziano Pelle (sec­ond left) of Italy dur­ing a UEFA Euro 2016 round of 16 match at Stade de France on June 27. Italy won 2-0, end­ing Spain’s bid for a record third con­sec­u­tive Euro ti­tle.

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