A rivalry renewed in Turin
Spain and Italy clash in pick of the World Cup qualifiers
Any game between two of Europe’s leading lights is worth watching, but this particularly contest is all the ricker thanks to the intriguing subplots.
Spain are looking to avenge their Euro 2016 last-16 defeat to Italy, while both countries are under new management and determined to prove they can be a threat at the World Cup.
In the Stade de France it was the tactical genius of Antonio Conte that triumphed, with a disciplined Italy securing a throughly deserved 2-0 win.
In contrast for Spain, it was the final nail in the coffin for the hugely successful Vicente del Bosque.
La Roja looked stale and a change was clearly needed.
In came Julen Lopetegui who has quickly earned praise from influential midfielder Sergio Busquets.
“The two have more or less the same system but with Lopetegui we are working more tactically, there is much more emphasis on that, but more or less they are quite similar,” said the Barca star.
Busquets played down the idea of revenge, but Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci feels the Spanish will have some extra motivation.
“We’re expecting a different Spain side with respect to the one we faced at the Euros,” said the Juventus defender. “They will have fresh motivation, they’ll be in a new state of mind and looking to avenge their Euro 2016 defeat.” Italy are also under new management, with Giampiero Ventura replacing Conte. But while Spain looked revitalised under their new boss, putting eight unanswered goals past minnows Liechtenstein, Italy were torn apart by France in a 3-1 defeat and didn’t look much better in a 3-1 victory over Israel in Haifa. “We have to step up a gear with respect to how we played against Israel,” added Bonucci [pictured]. “Totally, yes. Spain are favourites 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.”
With only one side guaranteed automatic qualification to the World Cup in Russia, the clash between the two European giants takes on extra significance. And Ventura is fully aware of just how big this game is.
“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 adrenalin boost, and conviction.” Spain face Italy at 10.45pm tonight with live coverage on AD Sports 4HD