Spain vs Italy preview, betting tips and predictions: La Roja could edge a tight game in Group G

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Only the tightest of margins separate Spain and Italy in Group G of World Cup qualifying after six games, meaning this one will be a very close one to call. Spain’s home advantage could be decisive, but they both have 16 points after five wins and a draw. Spain have performed marginally better, scoring more goals and conceding fewer than Italy, but they will still have the memory of being knocked out of the Euro 2016 quarter finals by the Azzurri,

Looking at the squads, the biggest news from La Roja’s point of view is the return of all time top goalscorer David Villa, who has come out of retirement to lead he line after some impressive displays in Major League Soccer with New York City FC. Marco Asensio comes in after an explosive start to the season with Real Madrid, which has included scoring twice against Barcelona in the Super Cup and twice in the weekend’s draw with Valencia. Julian Lopetegui has a great squad of players to choose from, but Spain will be particularly potent in attack having already scored a staggering 21 goals in the campaign thus far.

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But Italy, who have 18 to their name, will be led from the front by Andrea Belotti, who enjoyed a stellar season with Torino and netted a sublime scissor kick against Sassuolo at the weekend. Defensively, Italy will naturally keep it tight, but with Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci all back together despite the latter leaving Juventus for AC Milan this summer, Gian Piero Ventura will have a lot of stability. Federico Bernardeschi, Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne will give them creativity going forward too. It is not hard to see why these sides are closely matched, having only dropped points against each other so far.

Everything points to this being a tight game, but Spain will see themselves as favourites because they will take control of the tempo and look to penetrate what will likely be a very low block from Italy. Insigne will be vital for the Italians because, like Asensio for the hosts, he will be the main creative force, but there will be the added responsibility of breaking away when the ball is turned over, using his electric pace.

Key battle: Marco Verratti vs Andres Iniesta

What else could it be? This is very much student meets master, with Verratti constantly being linked with a move to Barcelona to replace the ageing Iniesta. The PSG midfielder is as cultured with the ball at his feet as Iniesta was at his age, while measuring up in passing ability. As mentioned above, Spain will dicate the play because they have a certain style, but Verratti is of a similar mould to those players and will have a say in the tempo of the game too. Both of these great nations have been through transitional phases but look strong enough to cause each other real problems, starting in midfield.

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