SPLIT: Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci has called on his Juventus teammates to take the frustration of losing the Champions League final out on Croatia when they meet in a Euro 2016 qualifier on Friday.
Juventus’ dreams of being crowned kings of Europe for the first time since 1996 were kept in check by a rampant Barcelona who won 3-1 at the Olympiastadion in Berlin last Saturday.
Now Bonucci, one of six Bianconeri players originally called up to Antonio Conte’s squad last week, hopes playing Croatia and then Portugal, whom they meet in a friendly next Tuesday, will help them ease the pain.
“Conte told me to just focus on Croatia, and that’s what I’m doing,” said Bonucci. “The next two games will give us a chance to quickly digest things, it’s exactly what we need right now.”
Italy head to the Croatian seaside town of Split looking to extend their impressive 45-game unbeaten record in European Championship and World Cup qualifiers.
But going on recent form, player absences and their historical record against Croatia, Conte’s men face an uphill battle.
Sassuolo striker Simone Zaza, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti and Juventus defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli are out for the Euro 2012 runners-up through injury and Conte could also be deprived of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (elbow).
Croatia have suffered only one defeat to Italy in eight games, in 1942, and have since beaten the Azzurri three times and drawn four.
The sides drew 1-1 in Milan in November and Conte admitted Croatia “are a very strong side and showed that against us at the San Siro”.
Anything less than a draw on Friday could leave the Azzurri facing a long summer before the next qualifiers in September.
Croatia can move five points clear at the top of Group H with a win and Italy are also only two points above third-placed Norway, who host Azerbaijan in Oslo this weekend.
Matches on Friday
Kazakhstan v Turkey
Iceland v Czech Republic
Latvia v Netherlands
Andorra v Cyprus
Bos-Herce v Israel
Wales v Belgium
Croatia v Italy
Malta v Bulgaria
Norway v Azerbaijan
Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2015.
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