Italy and Spain are no strangers to each other having met nine times in the last ten years, but even with the most recent clash coming at this summer’s European Championships, both sides will feel a little unfamiliar in Turin this week.
The Italians’ 2-0 win in Paris saw Spain’s bid for a third straight Euro title come crashing to an end, and in turn, led to Vicente del Bosque’s departure.
Similarly, then-Azzurri boss Antonio Conte had already agreed to take charge at Chelsea, and so both nations meet again just four months later with new head coaches.
Ex-Torino manager Giampiero Ventura is now in charge of the Italians, while former Spain U21 and Porto boss Julen Lopetegui has replaced Del Bosque.
How much of Italy’s run to the last eight in France, and that Spain win, was down to Conte’s tactical nous will be discovered this week.
In a group that also includes Albania, Macedonia, Israel and Liechtenstein, Italy and Spain should be romping to the top two spots, but with only the group winner automatically qualifying for Russia, the pressure is on these two meetings.
Underwhelming Italy are underdogs
On paper the Italian side still does not scream of world-class, and their traditionally solid defence will be minus the suspended Giorgio Chiellini.
There’s no room for Mario Balotelli in the squad, despite his fine form for new club Nice, and the hosts are actually the outsiders at 2/1.
Spain are 8/5, and despite disappointing in the summer, certainly boast a stronger squad than their hosts.
Manchester United’s Ander Herrera has received his first call-up, although whether he can oust the likes of Andreas Iniesta, David Silva and Thiago Alcantara remains to be seen.
Contests between these European giants are rarely goal-crazy affairs, and six of the last nine have seen just one side find the net. With that in mind, backing one team to fail again at 4/6 could be a smart move.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing