Italy and Spain go head to head on Thursday in arguably the standout tie in the latest round of European 2018 World Cup qualification fixtures, but I’m not anticipating a classic.
The two heavyweights both made big changes after Euro 2016, as Italy parted company with now Chelsea manager Antonio Conte while Vicente del Bosque’s silverware-laden stint as Spain boss came to an end.
Former Torino coach Giampiero Ventura is the new man at the Azzurri helm, as Italy went for experience, with the 69-year-old’s coaching career spanning around 40 years.
Spain took a different approach and are now managed by Julen Lopetegui, who worked with La Roja at various youth levels before a stint as Porto boss.
To add further intrigue, Italy dumped Spain out of Euro 2016 in the last 16 but, despite their recent victory, they are the underdogs for this clash at 2/1.
Ventura lost his first game in charge when France ran out 3-1 winners in a post-Euro 2016 friendly, but Italy then recorded a 3-1 win in Israel in his first competitive match.
Lopetegui oversaw a 2-0 friendly win over Belgium in his first match as Spain boss before an 8-0 demolition of Lichtenstein in a qualifier.
This game is hard to call given the two contrasting styles but if Italy can keep it tight and hit Spain on the break, as they did at Euro 2016, they could well steal all three points.
However, Spain will dominate possession and if they can grab the first goal you’d have to fancy them to go on and win the match as well.
As such it may be best to consider some other markets and the 20/23 on offer for a draw at half-time appeals.
I’m expecting a cagey affair – in the opening stages at least – and we may not see a breakthrough until after the interval.
Italy and Spain find themselves in what looks a fairly uncompetitive Group G, with only Israel and Albania appearing even remotely likely to challenge the duo for a top-two spot.
Both sides will see this as a ‘must not lose’ rather than a ‘must win’ clash and the 6/5 on offer for a 0-0 score at half-time is my top bet for this World Cup qualifier, as I’m not expecting either to risk a defeat in order to push for a win at this early stage of the qualification campaign.