Azzurri await tough test at the Bernabeu. Ventura: “We can pull off a surprise against Spain”

March 27th 1949 was the last and only time the National Team managed to overcome Spain on their own turf, winning 3-1 in a friendly played in Madrid at the Stadio Chamartin, six years later being renamed after then club president Santiago Bernabeu. Now, 70 years later, Italy are returning to Spain as they seek to obtain first place in a group that could crucially secure them qualification to the World Cup in Russia 2018. However, the odds are unsurprisingly stacked against them and it is a huge task that lies ahead of the Azzurri, particularly taking into account the fact that La Roja have never lost a single World Cup qualifier on home soil.

The National Team arrived in Madrid late on Friday afternoon, before then observing the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu, which tomorrow will host Italy vs. Spain. In terms of Azzurri updates, they were dealt a blow during this morning’s training session at Coverciano, as Giorgio Chiellini suffered an injury to his left calf and was subsequently ruled out of the matches against both Spain and Israel: “It’s a shame about Chiellini’s injury,” said coach Gian Piero Ventura during his press conference. “However, it doesn’t change any of our decisions. We’ve lost a great player which is a pity, although we will still put in a great performance without him.”

After Ventura’s debut defeat during a friendly to France a year ago, he has since picked up nine positive results in a row (seven wins and two draws against Spain and Germany) and he is now hoping to extend his recent streak of four consecutive victories: “I am happy to be playing my part in this game,” he added. “It is exciting to have the chance to compete in a qualifier whilst top of the group with level points. I am convinced that the requirements are there for us to pull off a big surprise. It is an important match, in an important stadium against some important players. This therefore demonstrates that we’ll need to put in an important performance. But in football, there is always the possibility to trouble any squad on the planet. It is a match of considerable importance and we will play it with a desire to be the protagonists.”

On the Spanish front there is great respect for the Azzurri, as was on display during coach Julen Lopetegui’s press conference this morning: “Italy are a really top side,” he said. “Spain will have to enjoy one of their best days if they are to win.” As for Andres Iniesta, he said that: “it is always great to come up against some of the best players in the world and try to beat them”, while Sergio Ramos that Saturday’s match: “is one of the best games you can see anywhere in the world”. Without confirming the team that will take to the field tomorrow, Ventura did instead make clear that his Italy side will play the match without any fear: “I went down to the pitch and I didn’t find any crocodiles or snakes,” said Ventura. “The true problem will be our opponents, who do possess some real quality.”

Sitting to next to the coach during Friday’s press conference was Gigi Buffon: “For the match tomorrow our formation is obviously important, “said Buffon. “While we must always focus on our balance and how compact we are. We will play the game in two phases, defence and attack. This week we’ve worked really hard on making the most of what the coach has told us and I hope that tomorrow we succeed in showing the courage and cunning required to put into practice all that we have worked on, while also putting in an outstanding display.” The Azzurri captain is optimistic and is also certain that Italy do have the skills needed to keep Iniesta and his teammates at bay: “We have a young squad who do not feel the pressure of such an important game,” he concluded. “I hope that this feeling accompanies us onto the field tomorrow, as we will need it. I am confident that we will put in a great performance. In Spain I have often witnessed defeats, but I hope that we’ll succeed in putting in a display worthy of a top team. Leaving the Bernabeu after a solid performance would provide us with a boost of confidence.”


Squad list

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Mattia Perin (Genoa);
Defenders: Davide Astori (Fiorentina), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Milan), *Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Andrea Conti (Milan), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Leonardo Spinazzola (Atalanta);
Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Riccardo Montolivo (Milan), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint Germain);
Wingers: Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Antonio Candreva (Inter), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli);
Forwards: Andrea Belotti (Torino), Eder Citadin Martins (Inter), Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton), Ciro Immobile (Lazio.

*Injured and has left the squad

National Team’s schedule 

Saturday 2nd September
20.45        SPAIN vs. ITALY – Santiago Bernabeu Stadium;  Referee Kuipers (Netherlands)
Squad will meet the press after the match and will then return to their hotel

Sunday 3rd September
10.30 Flight from Madrid to Florence
18.00  Training (first 15 minutes open to the press)

Monday 4th September MD-1
9.30   Training  (first 15 minutes open to the press)
17.30 Bus transfer to Reggio Emilia
19.30 Walk-round at the Stadio ‘Città del Tricolore’ (open to the press)
20.00     Press conference for coach and one player

Israel’s media commitments at the Stadio Città del Tricolore:
17.30 Press conference for coach and one player
18.00 Training (first 15 minutes open to the press)

Tuesday 5th September
20.45 ITALY VS. ISRAEL – Stadio Città del Tricolore; Referee Bastien (Francia). Meeting with the press after the match