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 on the other hand have struggled against quality opposition since winning the World Cup last summer, losing 4-1 away to Argentina in September and then 4-0 against Iberian rivals Portugal two months later.
Italy are Spain’s most difficult 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.”
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.