[OP-ED]: Never rule Italy out
Since a whimsy Russia 2018 World Cup draw resulted in Spain and Italy together in Group G we knew it would be a dogfight for the top spot in the standings. It is important to remember that only the first team of the group qualifies directly to the World Cup, while the second one would need to play a tough knock out round, that could include strong squads like The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland or even European champion Portugal, to earn its berth in Russia.
After each team has played three games, as expected both powerhouses lead Group G with seven points. Anyhow, their road to this position has been completely different. Spain, with Julen Lopetegui as manager has recovered its beautiful game. ‘La Roja’ has regained ball possession and the center of the field thanks to including again in the lineup four skilled midfielders.
In the other side, Italy has also comeback to its familiar defensive style. Italians might be on the ground, defeated, but if you do not round them off, they come back up and regain life.
It happened this way in the collision between the two European giants in Turin a few days ago. Spain overwhelmed Italy in ball possession and got the lead when Sevilla’s winger Vitolo took advantage of a mistake made by veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Anyhow, the Spaniards were not able finished the Italians off. In an isolated play with eight minutes remaining in the contest, Sergio Ramos was sanctioned with a full and unnecessary penalty kick that another veteran, Daniele De Rossi transformed into the 1-1 tie. Ironically, in the remaining time Italy was closer to win the match than Spain.
The result was not bad for the visiting team. On Sunday Spain shined again, winning in another complicated road trip at Albania, 2-0. Anyway, the Italian result left a sweet and sour feeling. Despite Russia 2018 is still two years away a win at Juventus stadium would have served the qualification to the World Cup in a silver platter to Spain.
Italy was back to its own agonic style in the Group’s third game. In a horrible match at weak Macedonia, the Italians were down, 2-1, midway to the second half. Anyway, they found again a way to comeback and end up winning, 3-2, thanks to a goal scored by Immobile two minutes into added time.
Probability tells us both National teams will keep on winning. Spain will do it in a precious way, while Italy will rely on experience and astuteness.
There is almost one year left before both squads play against each other again in Spain, on September 2nd of 2017. If both arrive tied at the top a draw will favor a home team that already has a much better goal differential than the Italians. Anyway, ruling Italy out like a few days ago in Turin could be a fateful mistake for the Spaniards.