Santiago Bernabeu - World Cup Qualifying
Spain host Italy in World Cup qualifying on Saturday evening, as the top two teams in Group G meet at the home of Real Madrid. With both teams level on points, top spot in the group’s up for grabs.
Spain can even up their record against Italy with victory. They’ve won 11 times against the Azzurri, while the Italians have beaten Saturday’s opponents on 12 occasions. The last meeting was a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Stadium in Torino earlier in Group G qualifying, when a late Daniele De Rossi penalty rescued a point for the hosts.
The big news for Spain is that record scorer David Villa has been called up to the squad for the first time since retiring from international football in 2014. The New York City striker replaces Diego Costa, who remains in exile in Brazil. His replacement at Chelsea, Alvaro Morata, is expected to start up front.
There were few surprises in the Italy squad, although on-loan Inter midfielder Roberto Gagliardini misses out. Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco was also overlooked, with Giampiero Ventura preferring the likes of Federico Bernardeschi, Antonio Candreva, Lorenzo Insigne and Lorenzo Insigne up top.
Spain v Italy Preview and Predictions
The two teams have similar records in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Both are unbeaten, and have scored plenty of goals and conceded few in their six games so far, as well as sharing that draw last October. With relatively straightforward fixtures to come, this game ought to decide who automatically qualifies for the showpiece in Russia, and who faces a playoff.
After winning three in a row against Italy, La Roja have failed to win any of their last three. A draw will keep Julen Lopetegui’s side top of the group thanks to their slightly better record, but there’s no doubt Spain are gunning for all three points. After such a disappointing defence of their crown at Brazil 2014, Spain have slipped to 11th in the world rankings.
There’s plenty of pressure on former Porto boss Lopetegui, and his team start as 2/1 favourites for this one. The visitors meanwhile sit one place below their rivals in the rankings, having also gone out at the group stages in Brazil. They’re available at 19/5 in the betting, while the draw’s priced at 9/4.
With so much at stake, this game’s likely to be a tight one. Don’t be surprised to see Italy sit back and look to strike their opponents on the counter.
2nd half to be highest scoring at 20/21
The two teams are likely to feel each other out in the first period before the game opens up in the second.
Italy to win 1-0 at 10/1
Back the Azzurri to sneak a narrow win as they overtake Spain at the top of Group G.