Our writer previews the enticing 2018 Russia World Cup qualifier between Italy and Spain.
European giants Italy and Spain will square off in what promises to be a cracking contest. The pair have been unfortunately placed in the same group, meaning only one of them can be afforded automatic qualification to the 2018 Russia World Cup should they top group G.
The eight best runners-ups from the first round will play home-and-away over two legs, but both of these powerhouses will be determined to avoid that route, making this encounter all the more mouth-watering! We have seen some unforgettable clashes between the Azzurri and La Roja and I expect this matchup to be no different!
Italy v Spain | Thursday 6 October | Juventus Stadium | 20:45
To Win (90 Mins)
Italy 2/1| Draw 39/20 | Spain 31/20
The Italians started their journey toward a potential appearance in the 2018 Russia World Cup with a hard-fought 3-1 victory away to Israel. Graziano Pelle, Antonio Candreva and Ciro Immobile found the net for the Azzurri in a match that was closer than the final scoreline might suggest.
Italy are largely unchanged from the squad that won 3-1 in Israel in their opening qualifying match. In Candreva, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, Riccardo Montolivo and Marco Verratti; the Italians have an abundance of creative players, while Eder, Immobile and Pelle are the options available to spearhead the attack.
Going forward, Italy are still in the process of finding its footing under new manager Giampiero Ventura, but it doesn't have much time to work through the transition. Nonetheless, Italy’s success in qualifiers over the years is as good as it gets. The Azzurri are unbeaten in 51 qualifiers over the space of a decade! This is both World Cup and European Championship qualifiers.
Whether you're a fan of Spain or a supporter of Italy, it’s a tremendous record that deserves respect and admiration. The Azzurri are known for their discipline, organization and solidity, and against Spain, they will need to show those qualities if they are to claim maximum points in what is likely be a group deciding encounter.
La Roja got themselves up and running in some fashion in 2018 World Cup qualifying stages, humiliating Liechtenstein 8-0 in their opening match. Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata and David Silva turned it up for Spain, bagging a brace apiece as La Roja strolled over the victory line.
After their misfire in the Euro 2016 knockout stage, Spain are looking confident again. The 2-0 loss to Italy in the round-of-16 of Euro 2016 marked the end of Vicente del Bosque’s long and successful stint as Spain’s manager. Julen Lopetegui has since been tasked with rejuvenating a team that won the 2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
Spain are blessed with talent spread out all over the pitch. The centre-back pairing Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique are among the best in the world, while their talented midfield is always going to make things difficult for the opposition. Up front, Costa will most likely get the nod ahead of Morata but the Real Madrid forward will most likely make an appearance off the bench.
Spain will look to starve the Italians of the ball, but with a dominant and organized midfield such as the Azzurri, that may be easier said than done.
Verdict: Draw 39/20
Qualification from this group should simply boil down to these two at the end of the day, so you are looking at someone taking the group by the scruff of the neck. Italy have played Spain in 34 previous encounters, with Italy claiming 11 wins, Spain chipping in with 10 and the draw occurring 14 times. A tight affair is on the cards and a low-scoring draw looks a decent bet at 39/20.
Written by Aaron Crowie @Hollywoodbets