World Cup Qualifier: Italy v Spain Preview

Giampiero VenturaThe Juventus Stadium in Turin will play host to a rematch of a Euro 2016 round of 16 tie this week, as Italy lock horns with Spain in a potentially crucial World Cup qualifier (7.45pm Thursday on ITV4).

The Azzurri, who ran out 2-0 winners when the pair went head-to-head at the Stade de France in June to knock the holders out of the European Championship, got the current campaign off to a triumphant start with a 3-1 victory over Israel in Haifa last month.

It was therefore also a successful start to Giampiero Ventura’s (pictured) tenure as head coach of his country. The 68-year-old has been in charge of the likes of Torino, Napoli, Sampdoria, Verona and Bari throughout a managerial career which has already spanned three and a half decades. He replaced Chelsea-bound Antonio Conte following Italy’s exit from the Euros at the hands of Germany in the last eight.

Goals from Graziano Pelle, Antonio Candreva and Ciro Immobile made the difference against the Israelis at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in September. Ventura will be hoping for more of the same against the 2010 World Cup winners on home soil this week.

Spain are also under new leadership following their underwhelming Euro 2016. After producing two wonderful performances in their opening two games against the Czech Republic and Turkey, the 2008 and 2012 champions were thoroughly disappointing in meetings with Croatia and the Italians. Vicente Del Bosque has left his post as a result, with ex-Rayo Vallecano and Porto boss Julen Lopetegui chosen as his successor in the summer. Lopetegui took charge of his nation’s Under-21 teams for two years between 2012 and 2014, as well as the Under-20s and Under-19s before that.

Like Ventura, Lopetegui also emerged victorious from his first match in the dugout, with Spain thrashing lowly Liechtenstein 8-0 at the Estadio Reino de Leon thanks to strikes from Diego Costa (two), David Silva (two), Alvaro Morata (two), Vitolo and Sergio Roberto.

Italy’s 23-man squad for Thursday’s match with Spain and next week’s trip to Macedonia features several familiar names. These include Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi and Marco Verratti, who missed the European Championship through injury. There has been no recall for Mario Balotelli despite his excellent form for new club Nice. Ventura did hint that the striker would be reintegrated if he could maintain his current level of performance over a longer period. Pelle remains part of the group despite swapping Southampton for Shandong Luneng in the Chinese Super League.

Spain’s selection includes Premier League-based stars Silva, Costa, Nolito and David de Gea. Also in contention for a starting spot are Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique plus Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal and Isco. Koke and Saul Niguez are Atletico Madrid’s only representatives despite the fact that Diego Simeone’s side are currently top of La Liga. Bayern Munich provide Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez and Serie A side Napoli supply Pepe Reina and Jose Callejon.

The preview concludes that Spain can enact revenge and overcome Italy at the Juventus Stadium. While the Azzurri were clearly superior to La Roja in the summer, things have changed since then. Spain’s talent could shine through on this occasion, particularly as Ventura is unlikely to be able to come up with as successful a tactical plan as Conte did in June.

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