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MILAN: Italy face their first real test since winning Euro 2020 this week when Roberto Mancini’s side host the Nations League Final Four with three of Europe’s best ready to pounce.

On Wednesday, the Azzurri will face Spain in the first semi-final, with the San Siros awaiting a repeat of the last four games of the Euro clash with Luis Enrique’s side which ended in a victory at the penalty shootout for Italy.

The other semi-final on Thursday will feature world champions France and Belgium, ranked best team on the planet although they were also knocked out of the summer’s European Championship by the Italians.

Italy are at the top after starting a memorable sporting summer for the Mediterranean nation by beating England in the Euro final at Wembley.

Mancini largely stayed with the heroes of this tournament for the Final Four, initially picking 22 members of the European squad and adding in-form Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellgrini.

He has since been forced to give up starting striker Ciro Immobile who injured his thigh and signed Juventus forward Moise Kean, who shone in Italy’s last game, a 5- victory. 0 against Lithuania in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers last month.

Rafael Toloi of Atalanta is also injured with the appeal of Davide Calabria of AC Milan.

France enter the tournament, still as hot as they came out of the round of 16 against Switzerland at the Euro and disappointing performances in the World Cup qualifiers last month.

Their 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Finland last month was their first victory after a five-game draw, which is not what you would expect from a squad made up of some of the best players in the world.

Coach Didier Deschamps will be deprived of pivot midfielder N’Golo Kante, who contracted Covid-19 ahead of Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus last week.

Olivier Giroud is also absent for the Blues, who was excluded from the squad after Deschamps ended Karim Benzema’s long international exile before the Euro.

Veteran striker Giroud, who is only five goals away from matching Thierry Henry’s France all-time record of 51, was also ruled out of AC Milan’s trip to Atalanta on Sunday with a back problem which, with a bout of COVID hampered his departure to life in Italy.

“It can’t erase what happened at the Euro, it’s behind us now,” Deschamps said after announcing his squad on Thursday.

Luis Enrique’s Spain are hoping to spoil the party for Italy, who defied expectations to reach the Euro semi-finals and had Italy on the back foot for long stretches before being knocked out.

They will be deprived of teenage sensation Pedri, who has been excellent at Euro but is injured for the second time in less than a month and misses another youth squad which also includes Barcelona teammate Gavi, 17.

Sunday morning, 31,000 tickets were sold for the first match in Milan, including 13,000 purchased for Sunday’s final on the same pitch.

San Siro Stadium and Allianz Stadium will be at most half full for the Final Four, as current Italian legislation on Covid-19 allows football stadiums to open to only 50% of their capacity to help keep up. guard against the spread of the virus.

It had been hoped that the limit would be raised to 75% before this week’s games, as the number of cases has remained largely under control since the spring and nearly 80% of Italy’s population over 12 has been fully vaccinated.

But on Thursday, Italian Football Federation president Gabriele Gravina said that would have been impossible even if the rules had been changed since early October.

“We are not ready, whatever (government) decisions are,” Gravina told reporters.

“I wish we had known a month ago, so our communications could have been clearer … I’ve already said that we cannot exceed 50% of the capacity of the League of Nations.”



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