Vicente Calderon, Madrid
March 05, 2014; 21:00 BST
Spain host Italy in an international friendly at the Vicente Calderon tonight as both teams warm up for the upcoming big event in Brazil. Both these sides have played out some intriguing matches recently, in the Euro Cup and then followed by their clash in the Confederations cup and the Spanish side have won their last two encounters. Although it will be just a friendly clash, still it is set to be a high profile encounter and will give either teams opportunities to showcase their talent before the World Cup to be held this year. All the eyes tonight will be on Diego Costa, the Atletico Madrid striker who recently shifted his allegiances and decided to represent the La Roja, a decision which drew a lot of controversy.
Team news and tactics
Vicente del Bosque nearly had fully fit pool of players to choose from for this fixture, but there have been few surprise exclusions from the squad. Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres have not been included in the squad by Spain manager Vincente Del Bosque as Pedro is set to feature in the scheme of things apart from the trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.
Diego Costa is all set to make his debut for Spain and will certainly be given preference before Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo, owing to his form in the La Liga this season, although Negredo has performed well in the Premier League as well. Spain’s last international clash was in a friendly against South Africa, in which they suffered a surprise defeat as Bernard Parker scored the winner in the second half. del Bosque is expected to make few changes to the line-up he selected in that game.
Iker Casillas will continue in goal, while Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Raul Albiol and Juanfran makes up the back four in front of him. The Atletico Madrid right back will make only his seventh appearance for La Roja in his career after producing some wonderful performances for Atletico Madrid in the league.
The rest of the team will consist of five Barcelona players with Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Fabregas and Busquets combining in midfielder and attack. Costa will make his debut in this game as he leads the line upfront and it will interesting to see what different dimension he brings to this Spanish attack.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Casillas (GK); Juanfran, Albiol, Ramos, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Costa, Fabregas
Unlike Spain, Italy does have to deal with a few injury concerns ahead of this fixture. Their star striker Mario Balotelli will not be able to feature in the team due to a shoulder injury. Cesare Prandelli has also left out experienced midfielder Daniele De Rossi from the squad for disciplinary reasons, after the Roma man punched Inter Milan forward Mauro Icardi at the weekend.
Italy have not won in their last four matches, drawing all of them, and would certainly like to make amends for that in this game and they have troubled Spain the past with their tactics. But Prandelli is unlikely to move back to a three-man defence for this game, like he did against them in the Euro Cup match which ended in a 1-1 draw. Specially with De Rossi unavailable for this game, that tactical options goes out of the window as the Roma midfielder was the one who played as the sweeper in that game.
Italy’s last international match was a friendly against Nigeria back in November – a match which ended in an exciting 2-2 draw. But Prandelli is expected to make as many as eight changes to the line-up he used in that game, as he looks to test his squad against the reigning World champions.
The defence will be changed completely with Gianluigi Buffon, Ignazio Abate, Davide Astori, Leonardo Bonucci, Domenico Criscito making up the back five. Riccardo Montolivo and Thiago Motta will retain their place in the side with Andrea Pirlo returning to the line-up and forming a three-man midfield. Antonio Candreva will start in free role behind the two strikers, Alessio Cerci and Mattia Destro, upfront. It will be a relatively young and inexperienced attack for the Italian side and Prandelli will hope that they can produce the goods in this game.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-1-2): Buffon (GK); Abate, Astori, Bonucci, Criscito; Montolivo, Pirlo, Motta; Candreva, Destro, Cerci
Players to watch-out for: Diego Costa (Spain); Alessio Cerci (Italy)
Prediction: Spain 2-1 Italy