Paris (AFP) – Spain striker Alvaro Morata believes his clash with old friends when the European champions take on Italy at Euro 2016 on Monday is one of the biggest game of his young career.
Morata is joint top scorer in the tournament with three goals from three games, but will face the unique challenge of having former Juventus teammates Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon blocking his route to goal.
The 23-year-old’s return to Real Madrid was confirmed last week after a glorious two-year spell in Turin as he won back-to-back league and Cup doubles and led Juventus to the Champions League final in 2015.
“If the coach starts me tomorrow it is one of the most important fixtures in my career,” said Morata on Sunday.
“It is tough to come up against them, but I am playing for Spain and my teammates have allowed me to relax.
“At Juventus I improved a lot tactically. For a striker, playing in Italy is very difficult and I learned how to play against an Italian defence.”
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque highlighted the vast improvement in Morata’s consistency over the past two years to establish himself as Spain’s number one striker and earn a move back to European champions Madrid.
“He had this process of learning and growing,” said Del Bosque.
“He has had to find the consistency that the great players have and that is what he has done bit-by-bit in Italy. It has been very good for him.”
Spain thrashed Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final in what midfielder Cesc Fabregas described as the most enjoyable match of his career.
However, the Chelsea midfielder expects a much closer encounter when he goes head-to-head with his future club boss Antonio Conte.
“For the circumstances, it was (the most enjoyable). A European championship final, against Italy, normally finals are incredible but you don’t enjoy them because they are so tight.
– Final joy –
“They tend to go to penalties, there is a lot of pressure. We enjoyed this final a lot from the first goal until the 90th minute. Enjoying yourself in a final is the best thing that can happen to a team.
“Tomorrow will be completely different, though, we have to play very well to go through.”
A surprise 2-1 defeat to Croatia on Tuesday ended Spain’s 15-game unbeaten run at European Championship finals and a repeat could signal the end of Del Bosque’s eight-year reign with his future to be decided after the tournament.