MADRID (AP) — World Cup champion Spain welcomes Italy at Vicente Calderon Stadium on Wednesday, as both teams try out new players.
Respective coaches Vicente del Bosque and Cesare Prandelli are sampling their options for the World Cup in three months. Here are five things to know about the match between the Mediterranean rivals:
DIEGO COSTA, FINALLY: Diego Costa will make his long-awaited Spain debut after months of buildup since he spurned the chance to play for his native Brazil. Diego Costa, who is a naturalized Spanish citizen, will get to debut on his Atletico Madrid home field, and provide a glimpse into a somewhat new-look Spain, which has always relied on finesse and intelligence. Del Bosque is obviously not concerned about relations inside the team despite Diego Costa and Spain teammates Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid having enjoyed some tense tats in Spanish league play. "He's integrated into the national team without problem," Del Bosque said on Tuesday.
NEW-LOOK SPAIN? Diego Costa's arrival will give the world champions a new dimension and opponents more headaches in trying to unlock their tactics. Del Bosque has left out key regulars Fernando Torres, David Villa, midfielder Juan Mata and striker Fernando Llorente with Thiago Alcantara another fresh addition. After using tiki-taka to triumph in South Africa, and a "false nine" in Poland and the Ukraine, Del Bosque has power and grit and perhaps something new to present world football in South America. "There's a lot of competition for spots," Del Bosque said. "I can't take everyone."
CESAR'S SPOT TO LOSE: The game against Italy will also provide Del Bosque with better clarity in choosing which defenders to employ come Brazil. Gerard Pique is missing against Italy due to injury, but the Barcelona center back and Ramos look certain to start in the center of defense. Javi Martinez's emergence gives the Spain coach options in the middle of the defense, too. Jodi Alba is a lock at left back, but the right back position appears be there for the taking: Regular Alvaro Arbeloa was dropped against Italy in favor of Chelsea back Cesar Azpilicueta. Atletico back Juanfran Torres will also compete for the spot.
CODE OF ETHICS: Prandelli is sticking to his code of ethics, even if that means dropping key midfielder Daniele De Rossi. De Rossi was left off the Azzurri squad after punching an opponent in a league match with his club Roma, which incurred a three-match ban from Serie A. Prandelli also called on defender Giorgio Chiellini for the match despite criticism from Juventus coach Antonio Conte as the defender had just recovered from injury. "All this energy should be directed toward the squad, toward the World Cup preparation — not for useless controversy," Prandelli said on Tuesday from the Calderon. "I feel empty from all this."
ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK: Despite the 4-0 spanking Italy received from Spain in the Euro 2012 final, Prandelli has no plans to get defensive against the World Cup champions. "We have to try and attack with as many players as possible, action after action," the Italy coach said. "If we worry about defending ourselves and rely on counterattacks for the entire 90 minutes it's going to be a struggle." Italy's attack is already short of striker Mario Balotelli (shoulder), with Torino forward Ciro Immobile getting the nod to replace Balotelli thanks to his 13 league goals.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Rome contributed.