Italy will play host to the Netherlands on Thursday as both international powerhouses prepare for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualification calendar.
The meeting at Bari's Stadio Comunale San Nicola prepares the Azzurri for their upcoming qualifier against Norway, while the Dutch are readying themselves to face the Czech Republic next Tuesday.
Despite being a friendly encounter, any meeting between such giants of the European spectrum will always have a hint of competitive edge underlying, with Thursday's low-pressure environment likely to produce sparks.
Date: Thursday, Sept. 4
Time: 7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET
Live Stream: RAI International (U.S., subscription required)
TV Info: Setanta Ireland (IRE)
The biggest storyline surrounding this midweek meeting lies in the new management now governing both teams. Antonio Conte takes control of Italy, while Guus Hiddink finds himself back at the Oranje helm.
Coming into the job after leaving Juventus, Conte has self-implicated some pressure on just what he expects of his side, per Football Italia:
Antonio Conte insists "after Brazil, #Italy are the most important football nation in the world” http://t.co/JRWnQ2reS1 #SelecaoBrasileira9/1/2014, 4:51:43 PM
The Italian line-up will undoubtedly take time to settle under the new coach, but in Hiddink, the Netherlands have a familiar face back in the head position.
The Dutch ran to third place at the 2014 World Cup under Louis van Gaal and will be hoping for further success under their returned mentor. Matt Morlidge of the Daily Mail quoted Hiddink saying the same methods would be retained under his latest reign:
"I applaud the whole team, which performed excellently. It was a very realistic approach there (in Brazil). That policy will be continued."
Having led the Oranje to fourth at Euro 2008, as well as the semi-finals of the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, Hiddink can be more confident in his new position than Conte, but that doesn't make Thursday's result any more assured.
Room For Experimentation
Injuries and omissions under friendly circumstances make for the ideal opportunities to try new things, and as each tactician looks to imbue their own brand on their respective teams, it's likely a host of fringe players get their shot in midweek.
Mario Balotelli picked up two yellow cards at the World Cup and is thus suspended for the qualifier against Norway but could have been used in Bari. However, Conte has chosen to omit the Liverpool striker altogether, despite Claudio Marchisio being in an identical situation.
Dani Osvaldo is back in the side after spending the latter half of 2013-14 on loan with Conte's Juventus, while Matteo Bonetti backs Simone Zaza to make his international debut:
Matteo Bonetti @TheCalcioGuy
@filippomricci @paulsmangone Giovinco is the one inclusion that is mind-boggling, but I understand wanting to experiment w/Zaza8/30/2014, 9:44:48 PM
Giorgio Chiellini is missing through injury for Thursday's fixture, per FIFA, along with Parma defender Gabriel Paletta:
Giorgio @chiellini will miss @azzurri's friendly against @OnsOranje due to calf injury - http://t.co/L0mPNxoU0b http://t.co/X8G1ha8J1L9/2/2014, 8:34:40 PM
It's mostly the Netherlands' attack that has been affected by injury, with Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart all set to miss out.
Closer to the back, Ron Vlaar and Jordy Clasie have pulled out as Gregory van der Wiel and Stefan de Vrij step in, with Luciano Narsingh also providing cover, per Soccerway.
The aforementioned quotes would suggest Hiddink intends to stick with the 3-5-2 mainly implemented by Van Gaal during his reign over the national team, but questions remain as to how either manager means to shake matters up.
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