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Key Battles That Will Shape Italy's Clash with Netherlands

Dan ColasimoneContributor ISeptember 3, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape Italy's Clash with Netherlands

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    Peter Dejong/Associated Press

    Italy and the Netherlands face off in Bari on September 4 in what promises to be one of the most fascinating post-World Cup friendly fixtures of the international break.

    The match will represent Azzurri coach Antonio Conte's first fixture in charge of the national side, while the Dutch also have a new manager at the helm in the experienced Guus Hiddink.

    Both sides will be looking ahead to the start of their respective Euro 2016 qualifying campaigns and will likely use this match to test out a number of players and formations.

    Here are a number of the key clashes that could influence the result of this glamour friendly.

Marco Verratti vs. Nigel de Jong

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    Andrew Medichini/Associated Press

    According to Antonio Conte, per the Agence France-Presse (via NDTV Sports), Andrea Pirlo is not ready for international retirement just yet.

    In any case, it is surely time to start grooming his successor in the centre of the Azzurri midfield.

    With the great man out with a hip injury, his most likely long-term replacement, Marco Verratti, gets a chance to showcase his abilities.

    The Paris Saint-Germain youngster has many of the traits that made Pirlo the legend he is; excellent ball control, wonderful vision and a superb passing game.

    How he fares against one of the toughest defensive midfielders in the business in Nigel de Jong and the rest of the Dutch outfit will give Conte an indication of how suitable he is to inherit the deep-lying playmaker role from Pirlo. 

Robin van Persie vs. Andrea Ranocchia

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    Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

    With defensive linchpin Giorgio Chiellini out of the Netherlands clash with injury, Conte may turn to Inter Milan captain Andrea Ranocchia to keep the Dutch attackers at bay.

    The 26-year-old is a solid defender normally, but he can sometimes look shaky when charged with leading the back line.

    With Robin van Persie on his way back from an injury of his own, he will be keen to get back among the goals ahead of his side's Euro qualifier against the Czech Republic on September 9. That means Ranocchia could come under considerable pressure.

    Both players will be especially keen to impress, so this should make for a fascinating duel.

Daley Blind vs. Antonio Candreva

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    One of the standout players for the Dutch at the 2014 World Cup was left-back Daley Blind, who was rewarded with a move to Manchester United following a series of positive displays down the left flank.

    Antonio Candreva's job for the Azzurri, if he is picked as the starting winger on the right, will be to get forward with pace and intelligence to make sure Blind has plenty of defensive work to do.

    If the Italian, who is capable of some energetic attacking play of his own, can keep Blind occupied, there is less chance of the Dutchman raiding down the sideline and setting up his teammates with precision crosses. 

Mattia Destro vs. Stefan de Vrij

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    Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Conte somewhat controversially decided to leave Mario Balotelli out of his first Italy squad. Therefore, all eyes will be on whichever striker he picks to lead the line.

    With the injury to Dani Osvaldo, Roma man Mattia Destro is perhaps the forward who is most suited to the target man role, so it could well be him who plays as the No. 9.

    The Dutch defence never looked entirely convincing throughout the recent World Cup, even though the side managed to make it all the way through to the semi-finals.

    Lazio centre-back Stefan de Vrij will be hoping to turn in a confident display as the young back line looks to grow into a formidable unit that can provide a platform for the team for a number of years to come. 

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