Italy expect vengeful, ‘more motivated’ Spain
Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci expects a “more motivated” Spain to come seeking revenge for their early exit at Euro 2016 when the sides meet in a mouthwatering 2018 World Cup qualifier in Turin on Thursday.
Italy host ‘La Roja’ at Juventus Stadium in what is their first meeting since Spain’s 2-0 last-16 defeat to the Azzurri at the Stade de France in June ended their hopes of a record third consecutive European Championship crown.
Both 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 minnows Liechtenstein in their opening Group G qualifier in Leon last month, 10-man Italy returned from Israel with the points from a battling 3-1 win in Haifa.
In his second competitive game in charge, after succeeding now-Chelsea manager Conte during the summer, Ventura is under pressure to deliver.
And Bonucci warned: “We’re expecting a different Spain side with respect to the one we faced at the Euros. They will have fresh motivation, they’ll be in a new state of mind and looking to avenge their Euro 2016 defeat.
“We have to step up a gear with respect to how we played against Israel.”
Asked if Spain were favourites, he added: “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 and Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets admitted Tuesday: “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 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 remain high.
With only the group winners progressing automatically to the finals in Russia, that means Italy and Spain’s direct encounters take on special importance.
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.”
– Romagnoli set to start –
After Spain, Italy face Macedonia away on Sunday in the midst of a hectic period for many members of his squad with their clubs.
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 ‘BBC’ defence will be without Giorgio Chiellini as he serves a suspension after seeing red against Israel, meaning Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci should welcome AC Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli into the back three.
Despite the relative youthfulness of Italy, Spain coach Lopetegui suggested: “Italy are difficult opponents because they have top individual players but also a collective strength that’s based on years of experience.
“They’ve had their own way of working for a long time now, I don’t think the change of coach will affect them.”
But Ventura countered: “I’m pretty convinced that to win, we’ll need a special kind of performance.
“It won’t be enough to play well 60 percent of the time, it has to be 99 percent.”
Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez and Manchester United’s Ander Herrera have been added to the Spain squad in recent days, with Bayern Munich’s Javi Martinez having withdrawn due to injury.
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