Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa is set to make his long-awaited debut for Spain when the world champions host Italy today in their final match before both sides name their squads for the World Cup.
Ironically Costa also made his debut for the country of his birth, Brazil, against the Azzurri just over a year ago.
However, he has since switched allegiance to his adopted country and having missed friendlies against Equatorial Guinea and South Africa in November last year due to injury, will get his first taste of action for Spain at his club ground, the Vicente Calderon in Madrid.
The 25-year-old is expected to rival Manchester City’s Alvaro Negredo for the lone striker’s role in Brazil later this year as coach Vicente del Bosque has left out his previously preferred pairing of David Villa and Fernando Torres from his 22-man squad.
Gerard Pique is Spain’s only big name absentee through injury, so Sergio Ramos will be partnered in central defense by either Javi Martinez or Raul Albiol, and Ramos said the game will take on extra significance with the World Cup just three months away.
“It will be a nice game because Italy are one of the biggest teams in the world. They have always had the utmost respect from the Spanish national team, so I am sure the fans will enjoy it,” Ramos said.
“The World Cup will be here before we know it, so the players and fans are more motivated,” he said.
Del Bosque has yet to confirm who will be his first-choice goalkeeper in Brazil. Captain Iker Casillas remains the favorite, despite not playing in La Liga with Real Madrid, as he has been in fine form in the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League.
“I hope to play against Italy. To be in the national team is very important for me and I am grateful for the confidence the coach has shown in me,” Casillas told Spanish radio station MelodiaFM.
Del Bosque has often used two goalkeepers in friendly matches, though, so Barcelona’s Victor Valdes could also be involved.
Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta and in-form Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara are also expected to get the chance to further their claims for a place in Del Bosque’s World Cup squad.
Italy will be out to avenge recent defeats to La Roja in the Euro 2012 final and on penalties in last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final.
However, they are more affected by injuries and disciplinary issues as Mario Balotelli missed out on Cesare Prandelli’s 26-man squad due to a shoulder problem.
AS Roma’s Daniele de Rossi was also left out due to Prandelli’s code of conduct after punching Inter’s Mauro Icardi during their 0-0 draw on Saturday.
Giorgio Chiellini has been called up, despite missing the last three weeks due to injury, drawing the ire of Juventus boss Antonio Conte, who criticized Prandelli’s decision to include the defender after his side’s 2-0 win over AC Milan on Sunday.
Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti returns to the squad for the first time in a year, while Torino forward Ciro Immobile and Parma defender Gabriel Paletta could make their debuts.