Europe’s heavyweights Italy and France meet at Stadio San Nicola on Thursday in a match that will be a great opportunity for both managers to make final adjustments before the beginning of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Having led his team to the quarter-finals of the Euro 2016, Antonio Conte bid farewell to Azzurri and left the national team for Premier League giants Chelsea. Italy are at the beginning of the road with Giampiero Ventura sitting at the helm, keen to lead his team forward and secure a World Cup visa in what is likely to be a challenging qualifying campaign for Azzuri. Italians have been pitted against the likes of FYR Macedonia, Liechenstein, Israel, Albania and Spain who will be Italy’s biggest competition for the first place in group G. Italy kick off the qualifying with a trip to Haifa on 5 September, but Ventura’s debut match will come days earlier with a friendly match against the Euro 2016 hosts France. New Italy manager is not expected to make significant changes to his team and is likely to continue with the 3-5-2 formation in order to build on the solid foundations set up by Antonio Conte.
The 17-year-old Gainluigi Donnarumma received his first Italy cap and could be involved against France. Alessio Romagnoli, Andrea Belotti and Leonardo Pavoletti have also been called up for France and Israel. GIampiero Ventura still raised a couple of eyebrows as he decided to leave out Stephen El Shaarawy and Domenico Berardi.
Les Bleus moving on
Euro 2016 hosts need to move on from the summer disappointment as soon as possible. France lost 1-0 to Portugal in the final of the continental championship at home soil, despite displaying some fine performances and incredible team spirit over the course of the tournament. Didier Deschamps is getting ready to lead his team into the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying cycle which begins with a trip to Belarus. Prior to the match in Borisov, Les Bleus are due to face Italy in Bari for a high-profile friendly that will be a good morale booster ahead of the qualification game. Didier Deschamps is standing at the beginning of a new chapter and his selection choices have been a clear indicator as to the path he wants to take with his side. France needs to prepare a new team and to fashion a strong side that will be able to stand up to the likes of Netherlands, Sweden, Bulgaria and Luxemburg in one of the toughest qualifying groups.
Patrice Evra, Eliaquim Mangala and Morgan Schneiderlin were all dropped for Italy and Belarus games, while Karim Benzema continues to miss out. Captain Hugo Lloris and Kingsley Coman are injured, while Bacary Sagna and Christophe Jallet have fitness concerns.
Matches between Italy and France are traditionally highly contested affairs. Winner is always hard to predict whenever two of the greatest Europe’s football powers go head to head. Last two games between two nations ended in victory for the visiting team and a similar outcome can repeat itself this time as well. France hold the upper hand over Italy, who are still getting used to their new manager.
Top pick: France 6/4 (2.5) @ Bet365
Alternative pick 1: Half-time Draw 1.97 (28/29) @888sport
Alternative pick 2: Under 2.5 goals 1.53 (8/15) @WilliamHill