Things are getting fairly interesting in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers Group G as Albania moved top of the table after an eventful draw between Italy and Spain.
Europe’s heavyweights shared spoils on a 1-1 draw and here are the five things we learned from tonight’s encounter at Juventus Stadium in Turin:
Italy fortunate to avoid defeat
Azzuri were very fortunate to rescue a point and preserve their 12-year unbeaten record in qualifiers as they ended up playing 1-1 against Spain in what has been a replay of this summer’s Euro 2016 last 16 encounter.
Spain opened the scorings after 55 minutes through Vitolo, who took advantage of Buffon’s inadmissible mistake on attempt to clear the ball, but Italy worked their way to a point thanks to the penalty kick goal from Daniele De Rossi.
Spain were a largely dominant side in tonight’s encounter and were undeservedly forced to settle for a draw in the end.
Giampiero Ventura a downgrade to Antonio Conte
Italy are a work in progress and it would be unfair to draw conclusive verdicts on Giampiero Ventura’s abilities, but looking at the early impressions it seem as if the experienced tactician is a big downgrade to Antonio Conte.
The Azzurri lack passion which now Chelsea manager worked hard to instil in his players and have so far failed to show improvement under new head coach.
A rather disappointing elimination from this summer’s Euro 2016 was followed by a 3-1 friendly loss to France at Ventura’s debut game as Italy coach and it was an ominous lead-in to the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Israel in the opener is not a real measure of Italy’s quality and 3-1 triumph left no one disillusioned. Tonight’s draw, however, will have raised plenty of questions regarding Italy’s style of play, lack of fluency in the final third, lack of creativity in the centre of the park and the overall inability to be on terms with respectable rivals and high-profile teams.
Spain got flair and vigour back under Lopetegui
A clear contrast to Italy boss, Julen Lopetegui has enjoyed a stellar start to his Spain stint. The young tactician took the opportunity to lead Spain with open arms and showed great courage as he rolled up his sleeves and made tangible changes to both his squad and style of play.
Lopetegui drew a clear line as he appears to have finished with Spain legend Iker Casillas and Chelsea midfielder Cesk Fabregas, who are deemed surplus to the requirements. Lopetegui’s Spain is trying to restore the recognisable style of possession play which was on display against Italy tonight as well and fans can be quite content from what they’ve seen so far.
Back-to-back victories ahead of tonight’s draw at Italy along with ten scored goals and none conceded were a joy to watch. In addition to their pressing play and dominant possession, La Roja have delighted us with vigour and flair in their play once again.
Italy seem content not to attack
For the entire 80 minutes Azzurri were sitting in the corner conceding strong punches from lively Spain, at times seemingly uninterested to go forward and attack their rivals.
Lopetegui’s men were utterly dominant with 62% possession to Italy’s 38%, but Ventura’s men need to be complemented for their stronghold defence which neutralised Spain’s clinical nature for almost an hour.
If Gianluigi Buffon hadn’t made a blatant mistake when he mistimed the tackle to allow Vitolo an easy finish, we are sure that Italy would have defied Spain’s pressure until the very end. Conceding a goal was a wake-up call for Giampiero Ventura’s men who started going forward first without a clear-cut edge, but then by throwing all cards on the table in the attack.
Their perseverance paid off in the end thanks to a questionable penalty call which referees had to consult over as De Rossi planted an equaliser, to deny Spain their much deserved win.
Diego Costa is a huge calamity
He might be a world-class striker, but Diego Costa’s well-documented unsportsmanlike behaviour is making him a huge calamity and great liability both for club and country.
The Chelsea forward had a silent night in Italy as he was closely watched by Azzurri defenders. The Brazilian-born Spanish still had an impact by putting in a solid team performance, laying off ball to his teammates, who worked around his trying to find the passage through to Buffon’s goal.
Despite his industrious performance, Diego Costa’s night in Italy will be remembered for his hit in Leonardo Bonucci’s face, a couple of more tackles against the Juventus man during the game and one particular detail which should have earned him a red card.
Having been ruled offside as he ran towards Buffon goal to confront him one-on-one after a counter, frustrated Diego Costa kicked the ball high into the stands causing an uproar from the crowd.
Felix Brych however chose to forgive Spaniard for his antics and not show him the second yellow card, but Lopetegui made sure Costa ended the game prematurely by pulling him out and introducing Morata instead.
ITALY: Buffon 5.5 – Barzagli 7, Bonucci 7, Romagnoli 7 – De Rossi 7.5 – Florenzi 6.5, Montolivo 6 (Bonaventura 6.5), Parolo 6 (Belotti 6.5), De Sciglio 7 – Eder 6, Pelle 6 (Immobile 6.5)
Unused subs: Astori, Bernandeschi, Candreva, Darmian, Donnarumma, Gabbiadini, Ogbonna, Perin, Verratti
SPAIN: de Gea 6.5 – Carvajal 6.5, Pique 7, Ramos 6.5, Alba 6.5 (Nacho 6.5) – Iniesta 8, Busquets 7.5, Koke 7 – Silva 8, Costa 6.5 (Morata 6), Vitolo 7.5 (Alcantara 6)
Unused subs: Callejon, Herrera, Lucas, Martinez, Nolito, Paco, Reina, Rico, Roberto
REFEREE: Felix Brych