Spain out for revenge in Italy in pick of World Cup qualifiers
MILAN >> Spain will be out for revenge when it plays old rival Italy in Turin on Thursday in the standout qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup.
Italy beat Spain 2-0 in the round of 16 at the European Championship to end its bid for a third consecutive continental title.
A lot has changed for both teams since then, but Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci believes the Azzurri need to have that same spirit if they are to pull off a similar feat on home soil.
"We're playing a different Spain to the one at Euro 2016," Bonucci said on Tuesday. "They want revenge and have new motivations.
"They are still favorites. They have the world's best players in every department. To upset the odds we will have to play with high-intensity, like we did in Paris, and be clinical in front of goal."
Both teams changed their coaches at the end of Euro 2016. The Italy defeat marked the end of Vicente del Bosque's long and successful stint as Spain's manager, with Julen Lopetegui tasked with rejuvenating a team that won the 2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
Gian Piero Ventura replaced Antonio Conte, who left for Chelsea after Italy's quarterfinal exit to Germany.
Spain forward Jose Callejon was recalled to the squad for the first time since his only two appearances for the national side in November 2014 and the Napoli star has an added motivation.
"It will be special because besides (playing against Italy) the match will be at Juve's stadium and the main rivalry we have at Napoli is against Juve," he said.
Both teams won their opening qualifiers in Group G, with Italy winning 3-1 in Israel and Spain crushing Lichtenstein 8-0. Italy will be without a crucial member of its Juventus trio of defenders as Giorgio Chiellini is suspended following his red card against Israel.
Italy visits Macedonia on Sunday, when Spain travels to Albania, which also won its opening qualifier.
Here is a look at some of the other teams bidding to reach Russia in 2018:
After a tumultuous week, England is turning its attention to matters on the pitch rather than off it.
Coach Sam Allardyce's contract was terminated last week after just one game and 67 days in the position. A British newspaper investigation showed Allardyce appearing to offer advice to fake businessmen on how to sidestep an outlawed player transfer practice, and also negotiating a 400,000 pound ($519,000) public-speaking contract.
Gareth Southgate, who has been promoted from the under-21 setup until at least November, will be in charge when England hosts Malta at Wembley Stadium on Saturday and away at Slovenia three days later.
"We need to build on the three points we won in the last game (against Slovakia), and the other side of it isn't our issue, it's nothing for us to be concerned about," England captain Wayne Rooney said.
"As a group of players we need to stick together and concentrate on the football. For the FA I'm sure it has been a tough couple of weeks but for the players we've been with our clubs and we have to focus on the games."
Scotland also has three points in Group F after winning 5-1 in Malta. It hosts Lithuania before travelling to Slovakia.
Joachim Loew is giving his players time to recover from intensive weeks with their respective clubs and will only start working with the side on Wednesday ahead of Saturday's game against the Czech Republic.
The short preparation time is unusual but absolutely necessary according to Loew, who feels footballers are playing too many games.
"We've reached the limits in sport — physically and mentally," Loew told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "We need to be clear that the quality will suffer in the long run."
World champion Germany leads Group C after winning 3-0 in Norway. It also hosts Northern Ireland Tuesday.
It has been a big week for one of France's rising stars as Presenel Kimpembe has gone from playing in Paris Saint-Germain's reserve team to earning a debut call-up to the national side.
Kimpembe, who is regarded as one of the most promising young talents in France, has made just 13 top flight appearances and the defender played in PSG's B team at the weekend but was called up on Monday as a replacement for the injured Eliaquim Mangala.
"It's a great joy, it's the country, everyone behind us," the 21-year-old said on Tuesday. "It shocked me ... I've been following the France team since I was really young and to be there today is an enormous happiness. I still don't realize it now really but I will do when I see everyone and start training."
France, which was runner up at Euro 2016, drew its Group A opener away to Belarus. It hosts Bulgaria before an away match against the Netherlands.
The European champion also had a disappointing start to its qualifying campaign as, without star player Cristiano Ronaldo, it lost 2-0 in Switzerland.
Portugal won't be too concerned though as it also lost its opening qualifier for Euro 2016 without Ronaldo, at home to Albania, and went on to win the rest of its matches — and the tournament.
Moreover, it next faces two of European football's smaller teams in the Faeroe Islands and Andorra.
"The squad is stronger because it has Cristiano, but mostly because the other players have more minutes, longer work, more training under their belts. This was one of the problems against Switzerland," coach Fernando Santos said.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.