2 September 2014 19:48
Italy and Netherlands come into Thursday’s friendly in Bari under new management following contrasting World Cup campaigns.
The hosts saw Antonio Conte replace Cesare Prandelli after the tournament, despite Prandelli having signed a contract extension that was due to take him up to Euro 2016.
Netherlands, meanwhile, are now under the guidance of Guus Hiddink for a second time, following Louis van Gaal’s departure to Manchester United.
World champions in 2006, Italy suffered a disappointing campaign in Brazil this time around, exiting at the group stage despite an opening 2-1 victory over England.
In their first game since the finals, Italy take on a Dutch side that finished third, and Conte believes his charges must work hard to regain the support of the fans after a surprise early exit from the game’s grandest stage.
“We must experience this with enthusiasm and joy, bringing Italy back to where they deserve, because after Brazil we are the most important football nation in the world,” he said.
“My team must be humble, proud and gritty. We have to win back the affection of the people. In Bari they have already sold 34,000 tickets for the friendly with Netherlands and it fills me with pride to see that response.
“This is a challenge with myself and I am convinced that I can help the lads understand concepts that it’s easier to transmit when you can work with players every day.”
Conte left the suspended Mario Balotelli out of his first squad, while the likes of Giorgio Chiellini (calf), Gabriel Paletta (back) and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (hamstring) have since withdrawn through injury.
The visitors have injury problems of their own, with the attacking trio of Arjen Robben (ankle), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (illness) and Rafael van der Vaart (knock) all pulling out, as have Jordy Clasie (hamstring) and Ron Vlaar (calf).
Hiddink has called up Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk and Paris Saint-Germain’s Gregory van der Wiel as replacements for the latter pair, while Luciano Narsingh of PSV has also been summoned.
The vastly experienced Hiddink must live up to the achievements of his predecessor Van Gaal, who surprised many with Netherlands’ strong showing in Brazil.
The 67-year-old boasts a proven track record, however, having guided the national team to fourth place at the 1998 World Cup, before repeating the feat with the much less-fancied South Korea four years later.
Both sides will look to use Thursday’s clash as a way to prepare for their opening Euro 2016 qualifiers, with Italy travelling to Norway next Tuesday and Netherlands visiting the Czech Republic.