Spain take on Italy on Wednesday, looking to improve on a mixed record in international friendlies since becoming world champions.
Vicente del Bosque’s Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0 in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, adding to their 2008 European crown and cementing their status as the best team on the planet.
They have impressed in Euro 2012 qualifying, winning every match to top Group I, and comfortably defeated the United States, Colombia and Venezuela in exhibition matches.
But since lifting the World Cup in Johannesburg last July, the side that went a joint-record 35 matches unbeaten between 2006 and 2009 have endured two heavy reverses against fellow powerhouses.
They went down 4-1 away to Argentina in September and lost 4-0 against Iberian rivals Portugal two months later.
Italy, the 2006 World Cup winners, constitute Spain’s most accomplished opposition since those big defeats in the second part of 2010.
And Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta, the man who struck the winning goal against the Netherlands in Soccer City, is expecting a challenging encounter in Bari.
“It’s true that we’re at the beginning of the season but there’s always an extra motivation playing against Italy,” Iniesta said.
“They’re one of the best teams in the world and this is one of those games you always want to play in.”
“I expect it to be an intense game as it always is against Italy, and even more so because they’re at home.”
Italy suffered a nightmare defence of their crown at the last World Cup, finishing below New Zealand at the bottom of Group F.
They have shown signs of improvement under Cesare Prandelli, and lead their Euro 2012 qualifying group by five points.
Former Fiorentina coach Prandelli expects Spain to provide a barometer of own team’s progression at the Stadio San Nicola.
“I want to see character and courage in winning back the ball and then using it,” Prandelli said.
“I’m interested to see where we’re at. Of course Spain begin with an advantage from the work they’ve done over the years right from the junior national teams.”
“But this match will certainly serve us.”
Spain will be without two key players for the match, with Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos both pulling out through injury.
Other absentees include Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila and Cesc Fabregas.
Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara, born in Italy to a Brazilian father, could make his Spain debut after playing for his adopted country at every level from Under-16.