Italy's game with Spain at the Vicente Calderon will be fascinating for several reasons. The two sides are among the favourites for the upcoming World Cup, and it will be an opportunity for both managers to experiment a little and fine-tune their sides ahead of Brazil. It's also an opportunity for Cesare Prandelli and his side to get one over on a troublesome rival.
The last time these two teams met, at last year's Confederations Cup, it was a closely fought tactical battle that played out as a 0-0 draw. One hundred and twenty minutes couldn't separate them, so penalties had to. Spain eventually triumphed, but there's always an element of chance to shootouts, and Italy left the Estadio Castelao knowing that they'd been the equals of the reigning European and World champions.
The meeting before that had been a different matter. A 4-0 mauling at the Olimpiyskiy in Kiev. Italy weren't as prepared as they should have been for that game, and tiredness was a big issue. There were also some extremely unfortunate injuries that left them not only weakened but also down to 10 men.
Euro 2012 was a testing ground for Prandelli's Italy, and while they were better than a lot of people thought they'd be, they still weren't ready. For a country with such a history of success, the tournament in Brazil needs to be different.
A strong performance in Madrid will send the right messages. A victory will send fair warning to their rivals.
Italy know that they'll need to take hold of the game and dictate play if they're to stand a chance, and Prandelli isn't hiding how he plans to set his side up. Spain can't be allowed to dominate possession, and Italy can't afford to sit back.
Speaking to the press in Spain, the 56-year-old explained how his side will approach the game (here via reuters). The Italian tactician said:
[The] game is risky because we are playing the world and European champions and because we have not had much time to prepare.
But these are the kind of matches that can help you in terms of growth and personality, that's why I urge the lads to show the best of themselves.
We have to show personality in trying to get forward in numbers. If we opt to defend and counter attack for the whole 90 minutes we will suffer. We will try to defend with a high line because if we defend deep that means they are superior.
The coach has surprised many with his starting XI for the game, putting his trust in several fringe players including ex-Roma forward Dani Osvaldo, who had endured a miserable time in the Premier League before joining Juventus on loan in January.
Prandelli will play a 4-3-3 with plenty of width coming from the likes of Napoli's Christian Maggio and Torino's Alessio Cerci. Lazio's playmaker, Antonio Candreva, will be pulling the strings up front and will need to be on top form if Italy are to succeed.
Italy's starting XI vs. Spain: Gigi Buffon; Christian Maggio, Gabriel Paletta, Andrea Barzagli, Domenico Criscito; Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta, Riccardo Montolivo; Antonio Candreva, Dani Osvaldo, Alessio Cerci