Italy, Spain renew rivalry in qualifier

Spain’s Andres Iniesta (left) and Giorgio Chiellini of Italy (center) in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Italy and Spain at Stade de France in St. Denis, France, on June 27, 2016. The two teams clash again this evening in Turin. PHOTO: GEORGI LOCOVSKI/EPA

Italy and Spain will this evening launch six days of World Cup action when the two European giants face off in Turin looking for a place in Russia 2018.

It is the first meeting between the two sides since they clashed at last 16 stage of the Euro Championships in France in the summer.

Italy won the match 2-0 with goals from Giorgio Chielini and Graziano Pelle leaving the Spaniards dethroned as Champions of Europe.

And it seems the two sides will pick up from where they left in France.

Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci expects Spain to “come seeking revenge’ for the loss in France.

“We are expecting a different Spain side with respect to the one we faced at the Euros,” Bonucci said ahead of the clash at the Juventus stadium in Turin.

The meeting is largely being touted as the game of the week given the two sides are the strongest in their group and any slip up could prove costly to reaching the World Cup finals in Russia given that only the top finisher is guaranteed of a place in the 32-team tournament.

While revenge could be the top sub-plot to the clash, it will also be interesting how the two coaches arrange their sides given that both countries have changed managers since the Euros.

On that Monday evening at the Stade de France, Antonio Conte’s rampant Italy made Spain look spent and stale, but the wonder now is whether that has turned.

Conte’s replacement Giampiero Ventura hasn’t yet had the same effect with the side, after two laboured performances in a 3-1 defeat to France and 3-1 win over Israel. This week Ventura praised how Julen Lopetegui had restored “adrenaline and conviction” to Spain since succeeding Vicente del Bosque.

The deposed European champions did only beat Luxembourg in the first competitive game of the new regime, but it was impossible not to notice more movement to the side and a greater intensity. There was just a different verve about them.

“We have to step up a gear with respect to how we played against Israel,” Bonucci conquered.

Asked if Spain are the 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.”

Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets while issuing the rallying call for his teammates also sounded a warning to their hosts.

“It’s not a decisive match for us but it is important to fight for the top spot especially as we are the strongest sides in the group,” he said.

The match kicks off at 7.45 pm East African Time.

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