Italy v Spain – Preview: Azzurri look to vanquish recent La Roja ghosts
Italy and Spain will resume a long-standing rivalry that has seen the two sides become familiar adversaries over recent years when they meet at the Stadio Friuli in Udine on Thursday evening.
Their first match was as long ago as 1920, and this will be the 34th time they have met and 10th since 2000. Although the Azzurri started off as dominant force in the pairing the recent emergence of Spain as one of the world’s great forces has seen them assert their authority on the Italian side, never moreso than in the final of Euro 2012, when La Roja emerged as comfortable 4-0 winners.
That was just one of five games against Italy in which Spain remain unbeaten and despite both sides enduring difficult World Cup campaigns in 2014, Vicente Del Bosque’s side have transitioned well.
They go into this game having kept six clean sheets in their last seven games, and will attempt to exert their adapted tiki-taka style onto the match from the outset.
The Azzurri’s recent matches have been less predictable. A 3-1 defeat to Belgium was preceded by a 2-2 draw with Bulgaria and though Antonio Conte’s charges have qualified for the European Championship, a number of question marks over his eventual squad selection still persist.
Conte’s side is likely to be somewhat experimental bearing this in mind, and with Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo all absent, there will be a youthful look to the side, all the more with Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini both unable to participate through injury. The Juventus defence is likely to remain well-represented despite that, with a central pairing of Daniele Rugani and Leonardo Bonucci likely to start.
Ciro Immobile and Simone Zaza are set to get the nod up front, though with Eder and Graziano Pelle waiting in the wings, they will have pressure on from the start. With just four goals to his name, Pelle is the highest scorer in Conte’s squad.
Vicente Del Bosque has called up veteran striker Aritz Aduriz, who is in the form of his life for Athletic Club, while Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto is also in the squad. He has played in almost every position for the Blaugrana this year, but if he makes an appearance in Udine, it will probably be as a holding midfielder.
With Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon both set to start, the goalkeepers will have a combined 321 caps between them. Casillas will step up a place to joint sixth on the all-time international appearances list, level with Latvia’s Vitalijs Astafjevs on 166.
Italy (W-W-W-L-D) Spain (W-W-W-W-W)
Expected Starting XIs
Italy: Buffon; Darmian, Rugani, Bonucci, Antonelli; El Shaarawy, Motta, Verratti, Candreva; Immobile, Zaza.
Spain Casillas; Gaspar, Pique, Bartra, Alba; Thiago, Busquets, Fabregas; Isco, Morata, Iniesta