Antonio Conte has called for focus from Italy’s squad as they embark on a crucial week in their quest to reach UEFA Euro 2016.
Italy – who were beaten finalists in 2012 – have stuttered in recent qualifiers in Group H with draws against Bulgaria and Croatia – the latter having pulled two points clear at the top.
Conte’s side host Malta on Thursday in the first of a double-header that also includes a home match with Bulgaria, and the head coach is targeting six points to potentially secure their place at next year’s finals.
“The duty now is to focus on the Azzurri,” he said. “It’s an important week for us, we can seal qualification to the European Championship with two wins over Malta and Bulgaria.
“The players are well aware that there will be no discussion of club matters while they are here.
“It’s quite obvious that those who’ve won with their clubs are happier than those who’ve lost, but we have to focus on our games.”
He added: “The aim is to win them all and finish top of the group; to win all of our four remaining matches would also help our confidence, we would grow from every point of view.
“It will be crucial to achieve these six points, it would allow to better prepare for June.
“Malta are a team that have grown a lot in the past few years, they defend with eight men, they are a tough opponent for every team.”
Lorenzo Insigne has replaced Sebastian Giovinco in the squad ahead of the clash in Florence after the latter picked up a groin injury, while Andrea Pirlo returns to Italian soil after making the switch to New York City in MLS over the close-season.
Malta arrive in Italy looking for their first competitive win since June 2013, with Pietro Ghedin’s side rooted to the bottom of the group with one point from their opening six matches.
A Graziano Pelle goal separated the two sides when they first met in the group, the Southampton striker netting his first international goal midway through the first half in Ta’Qali.
That 1-0 victory was Italy’s seventh successive win over Malta and Conte’s side will be desperate to make it eight and ensure they hold onto a top-two place ahead of Norway.
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