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Edgy Italy eager to avoid national disaster

Sweden can hold out for draw

Italy prepare for their World Cup playoff against Sweden
1 of 1

World Cup playoff first leg
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Friday

You would have to go back to 1958 for the one and only time Italy have failed to qualify for a World Cup so the Azzurri are understandably edgy for their two-legged playoff against Sweden.

It would be seen as a national disaster should next year's World Cup take place without Italy and they can take a step closer to the party in Russia by holding the hosts in the first leg.


More football previews

England v Germany

France v Wales


Italy boss Gian Piero Ventura is under intense pressure because of perceived tactical weaknesses but they lost only once in qualifying - a 3-0 defeat away to Spain - and are experienced enough to take the tie back to San Siro all-square.

The Azzurri are solid at the back with Gigi Buffon behind a centre-back wall of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, while Andrea Barzagli could also come into the equation should Ventura switch to a 3-5-2 formation.

Italy are also strong in midfield but where they fall short is in the attacking third. Daniele De Rossi, with 21 goals, is the top  scorer in the squad with Chiellini next best on eight and the five forwards have managed a combined total of only 20.

Sweden's three qualifying defeats - to France, Bulgaria and Holland - all came away from home and the tie could go away from them in Milan but before that Italy should be happy enough with a draw.

There's a collective responsibility to Sweden's attack now that talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic has retired and coach Janne Andersson has eulogised over his scoring options, although there is a difference in class between the nations that should eventually tell.

Recommendation
Draw
1pt 11-5 Betfair

Bet on this game at Soccerbase.com

Team news
Sweden
Mikael Lustig is suspended but Albin Ekdal has made a surprising recovery from injury.

Italy
Simone Zaza is a major doubt with a knee injury 

Key stat
Italy have lost one of their last 37 matches.


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Italy boss Gian Piero Ventura is under intense pressure because of perceived tactical weaknesses but they lost only once in qualifying
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