Old foes' fates could rest with two young guns


All eyes will be on two young attackers when old foes Spain and Italy resume their rivalry in a World Cup qualifier tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

Spain's Marco Asensio, 21, and Italy's Andrea Belotti, 23 - both of whom were absent when Italy knocked Spain out of Euro 2016 - have revitalised their teams' attacking options.

They have since blossomed into two of the most exciting attackers in Europe.

The two former world champions are tied on 16 points at the top of Group G and the winner of this showdown will be strongly placed to top the group and qualify automatically for next year's World Cup in Russia, leaving the runner-up to fight it out in a play-off.

A 1-1 draw in Turin last October and a superior goal difference means a draw would still leave Spain in the driver's seat with three more qualifiers left.

Central to Italy's hopes of leaving the Santiago Bernabeu victorious is Belotti, nicknamed the rooster, who bagged 26 league goals for Torino last term and has scored four goals from four starts in Italy's qualifiers.

He picked up from where he left off last season by landing an outrageous scissor-kick in Torino's 3-0 win over Sassuolo last Sunday, prompting coach Sinisa Mihajlovic to remark that the striker was worth 100 million euros (S$161.3 million).

Asensio, known as the bullfighter by his Real teammates, has also demonstrated his knack for scoring sensational goals.

He did so again by netting twice from outside the area in a 2-2 draw with Valencia last Sunday, and has already racked up four goals this season.

Asensio lit up the European Under-21 Championship in June with a hat-trick in the opening game against Macedonia and helped Spain beat Italy in the semi-finals before finishing runners-up to Germany.

A 10-minute cameo in a World Cup qualifier against Liechtenstein last year and two friendlies are his only appearances for Spain's first team but his red-hot start to the season makes him a likely starter on his home turf.

As well as his goals against Valencia, Asensio hit two scorching strikes against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup, cementing his reputation for delivering on the big stage after netting in the Champions League final win over Juventus.

Asensio has also scored on his debut in every competition for Real, and his task could be made easier as Italy centre back Giorgio Chiellini is out due to a right-calf injury.

"We're going to enjoy having Asensio for many years but he easily deserves to be a starter now," said David Villa, Spain's all-time top scorer who has been recalled to the La Furia Roja squad. - WIRE SERVICES

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