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International Friendly: Italy v France Preview
Our football writer takes an in-depth look at the FIFA international friendly between Italy and France.
Old adversaries meet in Bari in what could be an intriguing indicator of the upcoming World Cup Qualifying campaign. Italy, now under the stewardship of Giampiero Ventura, have been drawn in the same qualification group as Spain and will quickly need to assess where their respective strengths and weaknesses lie. France, perhaps still smarting from that heartbreaking 2016 Euro final defeat to Portugal, will look to retain continuity and let their star-studded assembly of players do the talking.
Italy v France | Thursday 1 September | Stadio San Nicola | 21:00
To Win (90 Min)
Italy 39/20 | Draw 2/1 | France 15/10
Italy have historically won double the amount of matches between these two sides - eighteen to nine - but will be all too aware that France have only lost one of the last eleven fixtures against the Azzurri. Ventura will aim to fill the considerable shoes left by master tactician Antonio Conte. He will have Marco Verratti back from injury to shore up the midfield and has also included several new caps in the squad, including the AC Milan duo of Donnarumma and Romagnoli. The former Torino boss has also rewarded his former striker Andrea Belotti with a call-up to the squad.
All in all, I imagine Ventura will start the game with his strongest possible squad and make wholesale changes throughout to get a feel of the team. One thing that Italy seem to lack in comparison to France is a top quality striker. Eder and Pelle will lead the line manfully, but both lack the dynamism and goal-scoring efficiency of say Griezmann and Giroud. Italy clearly have the holy triumvirate of Barzagli, Chiellini and Bonucci to rely on, but it’s in their midfield that I see the most excitement.
Players such as Parolo and Florenzi announced themselves on the international stage at the Euros in captivating fashion and should harmonize well with the more defensively minded De Rossi and Verratti.
Didier Deschamps has a hugely impressive squad to call on and will no doubt look to tinker as the game progresses. Hugo Lloris remains doubtful through injury, which may necessitate Mandanda’s place in the starting line-up. Lyon duo, Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, have both withdrawn from the squad due to injury concerns. Yohan Cabaye is similarly unavailable due to injury, while I expect Deschamps to start with Koscielny and Umtiti in the centre-half position with Digne starting at left back after Evra was left out of the squad.
I imagine that want-away Newcastle United star Sissoko will be awarded a starting berth following a tremendous Euro Championship campaign. This may see Paul Pogba playing alongside the tireless N’Golo Kante in the heart of the midfield. I would imagine that Dimitri Payet will start if deemed fit, while Griezmann cuts in off the right-hand side to feed the totemic presence of Olivier Giroud in the middle. Deschamps will likely also bring on Atletico Madrid striker Kevin Gameiro at some stage, while Kingsley Coman will no doubt feature at some point.
This is a multi-dimensional side that really deserved to win the Euros. In theory, they have too many star players for this Italian side and should have enough to put them to bed. But I’m not so sure.
Verdict: Italy 39/20
As so often happens in the wake of big tournament heartache, I think this French side may take some time to heal. Italy will be rejuvenated by the presence of a new manager and his players will be eager to stake their claim. Look for the dynamic midfield runners of Italy to cause some problems against a star-studded French side likely keen for this game to be out of the way.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets