Old foes to renew their rivalry

Old foes to renew their rivalry

LONDON • Italy have been drawn to face Spain while top-ranked Belgium will meet world champions France in the last four of the Nations League Finals, Uefa said on Thursday.

The matches will take place next year at the San Siro in Milan on Oct 6 and the Allianz Stadium in Turin on Oct 7 respectively. The final will be in Milan on Oct 10, while the third-place play-off will be on the same day in Turin.

The Azzurri, who topped their Nations League Group A1, will face Spain for the first time in a major tournament since they beat them 2-0 in the last 16 of Euro 2016.

Their most recent meeting in a World Cup qualifier saw Spain win 3-0 in Madrid three years ago and La Roja are in form after thrashing Germany 6-0 in Seville en route to topping Group A4.

Both sides have ushered in new blood in the wake of World Cup disappointment – Spain failed to get out of their group, while Italy did not qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia.

“Like us, they have a lot of new players and are still putting out a strong team. They have a different style now but are still a technical side,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said.

“Spain are a great team… they can count on an incredible pool of players in this moment, in the past few years. So they are rebuilding the team and they are doing it well, just like us.”

His Spain counterpart Luis Enrique added: “Italy may look a little like us in that they want to regain the level of yesteryear. They’re in a period of change.

“What’s certain is that we and Italy have followed a similar, parallel path, in the sense that we are energising the national teams with young players and, of course, by improving our styles.

“We have time until October to study them and we’ll see their strengths and weaknesses.”

Group A3 winners France renew their rivalry with Belgium, having beaten them 1-0 in their last meeting at the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia before going on to win the tournament.

The last time the Red Devils beat Les Bleus in a competitive game was in a World Cup qualifier in 1981 but, like their previous encounter, coach Roberto Martinez is expecting a tight game.

“It was good to play with them in a great tournament, we have improved a lot since then,” the Belgium boss said.

“We are good in the Fifa ranking, we have developed many players and both teams know each other very well. We share great memories of the World Cup.

“It will be a fantastic game, but I think it has been such a successful campaign in the Nations League that whoever you were going to meet, it was going to be that sort of big-game feeling.”

France coach Didier Deschamps is also looking forward to the clash as it means a return to Juventus’ home ground, where he spent several trophy-laden seasons as a player.

“On a personal level, I’m really happy to be playing this game in Turin, in a stadium I know well and where I have a lot of friends and acquaintances,” he added.

“It’ll be a great game which will be hopefully played with a great atmosphere in a stadium full of supporters.”