Riccardo Calafiori's own goal floors Italy
Riccardo Calafiori's own goal floors Italy (Credit: )

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(Adds Fabian Ruiz quotes) By Fernando Kallas GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany, June 19 (Reuters) - Defending champions Italy may have won their Euro 2024 opener against Albania with an unexpectedly attacking style of football, but Spain - their opponents on Thursday - are unfazed, says manager Luis de la Fuente. He made it clear his side are not preparing for game of finesse, however, and are getting ready for something more akin to a pitched battle. "We are prepared to get muddy, to dig deep in a quarry and for a day in the office. Ready for everything," De la Fuente told a press conference on Wednesday. "We know what kind of football they play and how competitive they are, so we won't be surprised. I expect a strong, aggressive Italy who will try to control possession. It is the most important match in the group stage." After thrashing Croatia 3-0, Spain share the Group B lead with Italy and if one side comes out on top on Thursday they would be through to the round of 16 as pool winners. Croatia and Albania are bottom with one point apiece after they drew 2-2 eon Wednesday. The Spain-Italy rivalry goes a long way back as no two countries have met more often at Euro tournaments, with Thursday's match being the eighth time since 1960 they have squared off. As they prepare to clash in the fifth edition of the tournament in a row, De la Fuente acknowledged that his side are also playing a different style of football in Germany from what fans have come to expect.

DIRECT APPROACH With a faster, more direct approach than the possession-based "tiki-taka" style that made them European champions in 2008 and 2012 as well as World Cup winners in 2010, De la Fuente believes the 2024 versions of both teams are very similar in the way they play. "We are much alike, they are also a team that are still under development, with a lot of young players and a new coach, very competitive in their approach... When I see them it's like looking at ourselves in the mirror," De la Fuente said. "They are a team on the rise with a very good collective mindset. It will be a very balanced match between two traditional sides. It's a football classic, a clash that could easily be a Euro or World Cup final." Spain midfielder Fabian Ruiz, who worked under Italy head coach Luciano Spalletti at Napoli before he moved to Paris St Germain, shared De la Fuente's opinion of the Azzurri who have won four World Cups. "We know that Italy is an intense and aggressive team. Spalletti has given them a touch of quality because he likes his teams to value the possession of the ball," Fabian told a press conference. "Spalletti likes to control possession and to press high, to take the ball away from the opponent. The Italy he wants are aggressive." While not wanting to reveal his lineup, De la Fuente said midfielder Rodri and captain Alvaro Morata, who picked up injuries against Croatia, were ready to play against Italy. (Reporting by Fernando Kallas, Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)