By Federico Casotti
Giorgio Chiellini says facing Spain in Madrid on Wednesday night represents a vital part of Italy's World Cup preparations.
La Roja overcame the Azzurri 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012 final and the Juventus defender knows that Vicente del Bosque's side, who are also the reigning world champions, are the ultimate benchmark when it comes to international football.
"When you face Spain it's not a normal friendly," Chiellini told Goal. "It's an important match for all of us - a significant test against the European and world champions who we have already faced several times.
"We want to maintain our results after doing well over the past few years. We hope to play well because this will be the last match before we meet up for the World Cup."
The match takes place at the Vicente Calderon just three days after a pulsating Madrid derby.
Chiellini claims that Real, who claimed a 2-2 draw thanks to a late Cristiano Ronaldo goal, enjoy a unique advantage over their Liga rivals by way of their superior wealth, so the versatile centre-half has nothing but praise for the way in which the Rojiblancos have managed to sustain a title challenge this season.
"When you speak about Real Madrid, you talk about a lot of money - almost infinite funds - something very unique in the world," he said.
"The real model could be Atletico, who are growing year by year without having such financial power. With great humility they are fighting at the same level with Real Madrid and Barcelona."
Italy head for Brazil 2014 with a settled unit and a defensive bedrock given to them by a number of Juventus players, including captain and talisman Gianluigi Buffon.
Chiellini believes the understanding between the Juve contingent is an important factor for the national team and knows that Buffon can be relied upon when pressed into action, as underlined by the goalkeeper's sensational performance in Sunday's 2-0 win at AC Milan.
"We have to take advantage from our harmony on the pitch in the national team," he said.
"Gigi [Buffon] was phenomenal against Milan as he always is. We hope to keep things more quiet for him because the less saves he has to make, the better for all of us.
"But we know that when the moment comes, he'll be ready."
Italy are placed in Group D at the World Cup alongside Uruguay, England and Costa Rica and Chiellini has pinpointed their tournament opener against England in Manaus on June 14 as a must-win tie if Italy are to stand any chance of progression.
"England are a great team with a lot of champions who can be decisive in such a tough tournament," he said.
"It will be a difficult group stage and the first match becomes crucial. We'll prepare for it in the best way possible in coming months because we know how it will be important to win."
With only 99 days to go until the big kick-off in South America, the 29-year-old admits that the excitement is beginning to build in the Italian ranks.
"The expectation and adrenalin are growing," he said. "We're starting to think about Brazil.
"While we play for the club we are focused on usual routine, but when we are with the national team and the new kit is unveiled we feel closer to the World Cup."
For more information about the Italy kit click here: http://bit.ly/NRamAg