Italy coach Antonio Conte has challenged his players to make an impression in Thursday’s friendly against Spain in Udine as he looks to narrow down his squad for Euro 2016. After the rematch of the Euro 2012 final, Italy will have just next Tuesday’s friendly in Germany and a clash with Scotland at the end of May before he is required to name his squad of 23 for the tournament in France.
“These two matches are very important, even though there will be more friendlies after this and several months before the final squad is named,” Conte said a day ahead of the meeting with Spain, reports Gazzetta World. “I would have loved to see these players for a longer period but that wasn’t possible, so I will try to get as much of a response from them as I can.
“I’ll have to pay particular attention in training to see if the new players can be useful at the Euros. I expect all of them to implement what we have been working on over the past few days, even though it isn’t easy to prepare for a match after not seeing the players for such a long period.”
There will be an opportunity for some fringe players, with several regulars unavailable. Juventus defensive duo Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini have been ruled out, as have Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti and striker Ciro Immobile. Veteran midfield duo Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi have also not been called up. Instead there are first call ups for Fiorentina winger Federico Bernadeschi and Napoli’s Brazilian-born midfielder Jorginho.
On the Spanish side, there will similarly be players aiming to secure a seat on the plane to France. Chief among them will be Aritz Aduriz. The 35-year-old forward has been rewarded for a sensational season with Athletic Bilbao, in which he has already scored 31 goals, by a first call up since he won his one and only cap in a 15-mminute cameo against Lithuania in 2010.
“I’ve felt very welcome and wanted here, and I’m very grateful to be here,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “I’ve always tried to play the best I can for my club and I know it was going to be difficult for me to get the call.
“It’s not very usual for someone to get a call-up at my age, that’s why I feel so privileged and happy to be here. Age is just a number. What it is important is desire, and I have that. I’ll try to give everything I can and do the same thing I do at Athletic. Whether or not I go to the Euros depends on the manager.”
Aduriz could get his chance, too, with Chelsea striker Diego Costa, who has failed to impress since switching his allegiance from Brazil in 2014, not called up due to a fitness issue. There will be much interest, too, on who gets the nod from coach Vicente del Bosque to start in goal against Italy. Iker Casillas has been the long-time No. 1, but, with the 34-year-old’s form having declined in recent years, Manchester United’s David de Gea has put his position under intense pressure.
Barcelona midfield duo Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta are unavailable because of injury.
D: Darmian, Bonucci, Acerbi
M: Florenzi, Thiago Motta, Parolo, Giaccherini
F: Candreva, Pellè, Eder
D: Juanfran, Ramos, Pique, Alba
M: Thiago, San José, Fabregas
F: Mata, Aduriz, Morata
Kickoff time: 3:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
Live stream: Watch ESPN