Italy played host to Spain in Udine on Thursday night in an international friendly match which offered plenty of excitement after a lifeless first half between two European heavyweights.
The hosts lined up for the match in their usual formation with three men in the back, but without Giorgio Chiellini whose absence was more than noticed at some points of the match.
Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian started the game as a centre-back together with Bonucci and Astori, while Pelle and Eder started upfront in a 3-5-2 system Antonio Conte was eager to test against the high-profile opposition.
On the other side, Aritz Aduriz was given his first cap for La Roja since 2010 and Athletic Bilbao striker repaid Del Bosque with the equalizing goal in the closing stages of the match, a goal which extended Aduriz’s excellent goalscoring run to 32 this season.
Alvaro Morata also started for Spain as Juventus striker has received an award of his own for fantastic display against Bayern Munich in the Champions League knockouts.
The hosts opened the game eager to make an impression against La Roja and were very close to getting in front after only eight minutes. Antonio Candreva ran down the right-hand side of the pitch and delivered a powerful cross towards the near post when Sergio Ramos latched on to the ball to his own post and behind.
Same player had another chance of getting Italy up front after 17 minutes when Candreva unleashed a wonderful effort outside of the box forcing De Gea to scramble across his goal and make a save.
Antonio Candreva has indeed been one of the most prominent performers in Antonio Conte’s team, once again proving he is in excellent form.
The 29-year-old Lazio winger has been targeted by a number of European clubs that will be vying for his signature during the summer transfer window and judging by the look of things Candreva’s price will only go up if he manages to keep the level of his performances during the 2016 European Championship finals in France.
With Candreva on the wing and Pelle as the target man, Italy looked rather dangerous in the first half.
The Southampton striker was an imposing presence in Spain’s box and his ability to hold on to the ball and lay it off wide to Candreva and Giacherini has been of great value to the build-up of the Italian attacks.
Visiting team did very little during the first 45 minutes, but Alvaro Morata and Aritz Aduriz did put Italian backline to a serious test after 40 minutes of play when Juventus striker pushed in a wonderful pass beyond the defenders and towards Athletic Bilbao forward who was just a step short of the ball.
Significantly eventful affair was seen after the interval and with both managers making valuable substitutions which put the tempo of the game to a whole new level.
The introduction of Insigne for Eder in the 51st minute was a pivotal moment for the home side.
Napoli’s flamboyant midfielder was a momentary influence, using his pace and explosiveness to get between the Spanish lines and to cause mayhem for his rivalling numbers. Seven minutes after his introduction, Lorenzo Insigne worked his way outside the Spanish box and latched on a powerful effort De Gea struggled to push wide for a corner.
Conte used the momentum to bring in Bernardeshi and Zaza for Pelle and Candreva less than ten minutes after and his trio of subs really did pick up the pace of the match.
Eight minutes after the hour mark Italy finally broke the deadlock.
Giaccherini delivered a fine ball for Insigne who stretched and poked the ball past De Gea from close range for a well-deserved lead for the Azzurri.
We did not wait long for the response as Spain levelled the score just two minutes later.
Alvaro Morata was offside when he headed a dead ball towards Buffon. The Italian keeper struggled to bounce it off, but Aritz Aduriz was just at the right place in the right time to pick up the reject and tap it in.
The 35-year-old striker did great to make his presence known and to put Vicente del Bosque under serious pressure when it comes to deciding on strikers he will be taking to France.
Spain head coach opted to make a couple of substitutions to his experimental side in order to trz and win the match.
Once again excellent Alvaro Morata and hugely impressive Aduriz came off to make way for Pablo Alcacer and David Silva so Spain continued the game without the classic number nine.
It did help them pick up the tempo and effectively get back in the match, but La Roja failed to do anything more until the very end to outshine the hosts, who left the better impression in the Thursday’s European classic between two powerhouses of the continental football.
ITALY: Buffon 6.5 – Darmian 6.5, Bonucci 7, Astori 7 – Florenzi 7 (De Silvestri 6), Candreva 7.5 (Bernardeschi 6.5), Parolo 6.5 (Jorginho 6), Motta 7, Giacherini 7 (Antonelli 6) – Pelle 6.5 (Zaza 6.5), Eder 6 (Insigne 7.5).
Unused subs: Acerbi, Bonaventura, El Shaarawy, Montolivo, Okaka, Perin, Ranocchia, Rugani, Sirigu, Soriano.
SPAIN: De Gea 6.5 – Juanfran 7 (Alba 6), Pique 7, Ramos 7 (Nacho 6), Azpilicueta 6.5 – Mata 6.5 (Koke 6.5), Alcantara 7 (Isco 6), San Jose 6, Fabregas 6.5 – Morata 7 (Paco Alcacer 6), Aduriz 7.5 (Silva 6).
Unused subs: Bartra, Casillas, Nolito, Mario Gaspar, Rico, Roberto, Pedro.
REFEREE: Deniz Aytekin
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