Less than three months before Euro 2016 gets underway, the finalists from four years ago will crank up their preparations in Udine on Thursday. Spain beat Italy 4-0 at climax of Euro 2012, but both countries topped their group with a degree of comfort in qualifying to put their names in the hat as contenders to lift the trophy in France.
For Spain, victory in Poland and Ukraine gave them a third successive international title and back-to-back European Championship crowns. But a humbling first-round exit at the 2014 World Cup means they will go to Euro 2016 looking to rebuild their reputation, and with a new generation of players looking to replace the former fulcrum of the team represented by Xavi and Xabi Alonso.
The process is ongoing, as shown with a first call up for the matches against both Italy and Romania for Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto. The 24-year-old, although primarily a central midfielder, has filled a variety of roles this season at the Camp Nou, all in impressive fashion. And his chances of a starting role on Thursday have increased after the absence of teammate Sergio Busquets because of injury.
There is another new face in the latest squad, although one at the other end of the age scale. The 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz received his only previous cap for Spain in 2010, but has finally been rewarded for a sensational season in which he has already scored 31 goals in all competitions.
“He has done enough to deserve the call-up,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said of Aduriz. “I've always said that he is a singular case because he is 35 and because of the form he is in, but we have to remember the European championship is 10 weeks away and not 10 years from now.
His inclusion has come at the expense of Diego Costa, although Del Bosque has insisted that the Chelsea striker was left out due to a fitness issue, rather than his recent sending off or his poor record for Spain. The Brazilian-born striker has scored just once in 10 appearances since switching his allegiance to Spain. And it is the striker department that remains the most uncertain for Spain heading into Euro 2016, with the match against Italy providing a chance for Paco Alcacer, Alvaro Morata and now Aduriz to stake a claim.
There will be an opportunity, too, for some fresh faces to make their mark in the Italy squad. Coach Antonio Conte has called in Napoli’s Brazilian born midfielder Jorginho for the first time, as well as young Fiorentina winger Federico Bernadeschi. Like Spain, there is also a recall for a veteran performer. Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Motta is back in the squad for the first time since Italy bowed out of the 2014 World Cup at the group stage. But Conte has lost Motta’s PSG teammate Marco Verratti and Juventus defender Andrea Barzagli to injury. The latter has been replaced by his club-mate Daniele Rugani.
There is sure to be much focus on Conte, with the match against Spain being his first since he announced that he would be leaving his role after Euro 2016, amid strong speculation about a move to Chelsea.
Italy squad for matches against Spain and Germany
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain)
Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo), Luca Antonelli (Milan), Davide Astori (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Lorenzo de Silvestri (Sampdoria), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan), Daniele Rugani (Juventus)
Midfielders: Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Bologna), Jorginho (Napoli), Riccardo Montolivo (Milan), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Roberto Soriano (Sampdoria)
Forwards: Federico Bernardeschi (Fiorentina), Giacomo Bonaventura (Milan), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Eder (Inter Milan), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Simone Zaza (Juventus)
Spain squad for matches against Italy and Romania
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Porto), David de Gea (Manchester United), Sergio Rico (Sevilla)
Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Juanfran (Atlético Madrid), Mario (Villarreal), Nacho (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao)
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Koke (Atlético Madrid), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), Isco (Real Madrid), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Sergi Roberto (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
Forwards: Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), Paco Alcacer (Valencia), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Nolito (Celta Vigo), Pedro (Chelsea)
Match time: 3:45 p.m. EDT