Spain and Italy face off for what will be a decisive match in their World Cup qualifying campaign when they meet in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium here on Saturday.
Both sides have dropped just two points each in their qualifying campaign so far and those were when they drew in Italy a year ago, so a win for either of the Spanish or the Italians would almost certainly book their tickets for Russia next summer. And a draw would leave qualification in the balance until the final game, reports Xinhua news agency.
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui recalled veteran striker, David Villa into his squad for the game because Diego Costa is unfit, but Villa is unlikely to start with Alvaro Morata and Marco Asensio, currently in fine form at Real Madrid likely to lead the attack.
The Real Madrid players in the squad will be in front of their home fans and Isco, Sergio Ramos, Asensio and Dani Carvajal should all be in Lopetegui’s starting 11, with Isco slotting in behind the strikers looking to link midfield and attack.
Much of the attention will also be focused on Gerard Pique, the Barcelona defender, who has already confirmed he will retire from international football after the World Cup finals, is a favorite target for the Madrid support and has been booed and whistled by supporters in other matches.
Lopetegui and other players have made an appeal for fans not to boo Pique in this vital game, highlighting the need for unity ahead of such a vital match.
The Spanish outplayed the Italians for much of their first meeting a year ago, but failed to turn possession into chances and chances into goals, allowing Italy to level from the penalty spot.
Villa’s return to international duty came as a surprise to many, but at 35-years old, Spain’s all time record goal scorer could still find himself with a key role to play.
Gian Piero Ventura-coached Italy, meanwhile, suffered a big blow as experienced defender Giorgio Chiellini has been ruled out of both Spain and Israel matches due to an injury to his right calf during training on Friday morning.
He could be replaced by his Juventus teammate Daniele Rugani in the defence to partner AC Milan’s Leonardo Bonucci. Veteran captain Gianluigi Buffon will be the goalkeeper. Metteo Darmian of Manchester United may be the right-back, while Andrea Conti could be the left-back.
In the midfield, Marco Verratti of Paris Saint-Germain, Daniele De Rossi of Roma and Riccardo Montolivo of Milan are expected to be starters.
Andrea Belotti of Torino and Ciro Immobile of Lazio will lead the Italian attack.