Better than anyone, Alvaro Morata knows what Spain will be up against on Monday.
The 23-year-old Juventus striker has spent the last two seasons playing in Italy, the country the defending champions will face in the round of 16 at the European Championship.
“It’s difficult to attack against them, they are specialists. Tactically, they are almost perfect,” Morata said Sunday. “It will be one of the most important games of my career.”
Morata will likely be facing four former teammates at Stade de France, including goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and three other members of the much-acclaimed Italian defense — Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli.
The Italian trio has been playing together for both club and country and has been key to the team’s success at Euro 2016. The other Juventus players in Italy’s squad in France are Simone Zaza and Stefano Sturaro.
“I have to thank them for how they helped me in every area, personally and as a player,” Morata said. “When I arrived there I needed a lot of help and they were there for me.”
Morata has played with Juventus since 2014 but is returning to Real Madrid after the European Championship. The Spanish club said this month that it decided to use its option to buy back the player, who will reportedly cost 30 million euros.
“He has a gift that only the top players have,” Buffon said. “He often stars and often scores in the biggest games. Clearly Spain is not only about Morata, but he is the focal point of the attack and definitely is their main threat.”
Although he will be a rival on Monday, Buffon gave advice to Morata when they were at Juventus.
“He was going through a tough time and I told him that once he stopped feeling sorry for himself he would become a great player,” the veteran Italy goalkeeper said.
Morata finished the group stage as one of the tournament’s leading scorers with three goals, along with Wales forward Gareth Bale.
After being criticized for poor finishes in Spain’s opening game against the Czech Republic, when he was substituted in the second half, Morata scored twice in the 3-0 win over Turkey and netted the team’s lone goal in the 2-1 loss to Croatia in the final group match, a result that dropped Spain to second place and set up the early encounter with the Italians.
Morata, who played in the 2013 Under-21 European Championship final win over Italy, is one of the few players from Spain’s “new generation” getting a chance with La Roja at Euro 2016. Goalkeeper David De Gea is the only other younger player starting in France.
“Morata has been doing well,” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “What he still lacks is the regularity that top players have. He adds a lot to our team and little by little he has to gain this regularity.”