Italy, Spain already anticipating crunch clash
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.”