Italy-Spain preview: Thiago set for Spanish debut in Italian city of birth

San Nicola, Bari

The winners of the last two editions of the World Cup meet in what promises to be a mouth-watering friendly at Bari’s San Nicola stadium on Wednesday night as Italy play host to Spain.

Both teams are in comfortable positions in their Euro 2012 qualifying groups and will look to test themselves ahead of their next competitive fixtures in autumn. Spain will be without Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Ramos who join Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila, Cesc Fabregas, Carlos Marchena and Jesus Navas on the list of injured or unfit absentees.

It was already doubtful that Ramos would make the trip after suffering from back pain following Real Madrid’s recent pre-season tour of Asia. It has now been confirmed that Xavi will also be absent after he returned from Barcelona’s tour of the United States with a muscle injury in his right leg. Ramos has already been replaced by Malaga’s Nacho Monreal however Coach Vicente del Bosque will not replace Xavi, instead preferring to stick with the remaining members of the squad.

The friendly could mark the debut of Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara who was born in San Pietro Vernotico, just south of Bari in 1990. His Brazilian father Mazinho, also a midfielder, was playing for Lecce at the time. Thiago’s call-up has ended any speculation that he might choose to represent Brazil at International level.

Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli both return for Italy and goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis has been called up to replace the injured Emiliano Viviano. Bari-born Antonio Cassano would love to play in his home town although he faces strong competition up front from Balotelli and Giampaolo Pazzini for a likely starting berth alongside La Liga-based Giuseppe Rossi.

The Azzurri Coach Cesare Prandelli may well take this game seriously as he looks to give his side some momentum ahead of Euro 2012. This could mean starting with the team that recently brushed past Estonia so convincingly. The match marks exactly a year since Prandelli’s first game in charge of the national team.

Del Bosque has rotated heavily in recent games and this theme is likely to continue with the likes of Pepe Reina, Monreal, Andoni Iraola, Javi Martinez and Thiago likely to feature.

Italy (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Maggio, Chiellini, Ranocchia, Criscito; Montolivo, Pirlo, De Rossi; Aquilani; Cassano, Rossi

Spain (4-3-3): Reina; Monreal, Pique, Albiol, Iraola; Xabi Alonso, Thiago, Javi Martinez; Villa, Llorente, Pedro

International form (competitive and friendlies):
Italy last five home: W-W-W-D-W
Spain last five away: W-L-W-W-W

Did you know…Spain have not lost to Italy in 17 years, beating the Azzurri four times and drawing twice in that time.

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