Italy, Spain al­ready an­tic­i­pat­ing crunch clash

The Star Early Edition - - SOCCER -

ROME: Italy’s prospects of get­ting di­rect ac­cess to next year’s World Cup had a mi­nor boost from a 5-0 win clinched late Sun­day against hum­ble Liecht­en­stein.

Af­ter six match­days in Group G, the Az­zurri still trail on goal dif­fer­ence be­hind leaders Spain, who won 2-1 at Mace­do­nia and are cur­rently poised to se­cure a place at the fi­nals set to be­gin next June in Russia.

“Noth­ing but win­ning,” ti­tled Il Cor­riere dello Sport yes­ter­day, adding that “in Septem­ber we must beat Spain.”

The Septem­ber 2 showdown in Madrid, af­ter which three match­days will re­main, is likely to de­cide the group win­ner, send­ing the sec­ond into a play-off round of the eight best run­ners-up from the nine Euro­pean groups. The Spa­niards’ 21-3 scor­ing record is four goals bet­ter than Italy’s 18-4, while qualifying chances are slim for Al­ba­nia and Is­rael, sit­ting jointly seven points from the top, as Mace­do­nia and tail-en­ders Liecht­en­stein are al­ready cut off. The Az­zurri’s win in Udine took shape af­ter a fran­tic but rarely event­ful first half high­lighted af­ter 35 min­utes by a classy goal from the in-form Lorenzo In­signe. The Napoli left winger, dubbed Lorenzo il Mag­nifico, set up An­drea Belotti for the sec­ond goal as Liecht­en­stein lost their de­fen­sive grit af­ter the break and were beaten three more times from sub­sti­tutes Eder, Fed­erico Bernarde­schi and Manolo Gab­bia­dini.

“We knew that it wouldn’t be easy, such World Cup qual­i­fiers sim­ply don’t ex­ist,” said the 26-year-old In­signe, now on three goals from 16 in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ances. “We gave our all and we clinched a fun­da­men­tal vic­tory. We also know it will be even more dif­fi­cult against Spain, con­sid­er­ing that we’re play­ing in Madrid. We will try to show the same de­ter­mi­na­tion and group spirit [in Spain], our goal is to play a great game and come home with a pos­i­tive re­sult. ”

Coach Gian Piero Ven­tura com­plained about the squad’s hur­ried ap­proach to the game, which brought a sin­gle goal by half-time, but was pleased af­ter the whis­tle.

“In the sec­ond half, we did things as we had to,” Ven­tura said. “The chances and goals came in a flurry. This is what I meant when I spoke about pa­tience, we’ll re­mem­ber this in Madrid.”

Mean­while, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui called on the team’s sup­port­ers to help them beat Italy in Septem­ber and all but se­cure their place in the Russia World Cup.

Lopetegui said: “I know that the Bern­abeu will be with us all the way. We need to take a bit of air now but then we will be think­ing about Italy and we can call on the fans to make sure the at­mos­phere is in-keep­ing with the im­por­tance of the game.”

Spain have played 10 games un­der Lopetegui and are yet to be beaten, record­ing seven wins and three draws.

Asked about the nar­row mar­gin of Spain’s 2-1 win in Skopje he added: “All that mat­tered was the three points and we have man­aged that.

“We are sat­is­fied with the way we played even though it was not an em­phatic win. We are con­tent with how we played as a team.

“We could have made it 3-0 in the first half and closed the game down. They scored in­stead and it made it more dif­fi­cult but we were never afraid that we were not go­ing to get the re­sult.”

Real Madrid’s Ser­gio Ramos said of the crunch meet­ing with Italy: “We know we have a very dif­fi­cult game next.

“There is a lot of de­sire to be in that World Cup so now we have to charge our bat­ter­ies and make sure we are ready for the test.”

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