Verdict: Both teams to score
Best Odds: 1/1
Sweden will be hosting the 2006 World Cup winners Italy in Stockholm on Friday night, both European sides look to gain an early advantage as they vie for their chance to move onto next years finals in Russia.
After being drawn in Group A for their qualifying campaign, Sweden always knew that they would be in for a battle if they wanted to book their place at next summers’ World Cup finals in Russia. But, Sweden managed to overcome the likes of Holland and Bulgaria to secure their second place finish on goal difference.
Although the Swedes may have lost 2-0 to the Netherlands in the final game of Group A, Sweden only finished four points behind eventual group winners France, a side that Janne Andersson’s team famously beat in June. The yellows will also be thankful that they will be playing the first leg of the contest in Stockholm. In their last 7 appearances at the Friends Arena, Sweden have only lost once and despite being unable to call upon their former talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedes have scored 24 goals in those 7 home games.
Sweden will be confident of causing the Italians some problems on Friday night, Sweden striker Marcus Berg, who plays his domestic football in Dubai managed to score 8 goals during the Swedes qualifying campaign.
Bar Celtic defender Mikael Lustig missing out due to serving a one-match suspension, Sweden coach Janne Anderson has a fully fit squad at his disposal. However, the Swedes have six players who currently have a yellow card to their name, that includes Manchester United defender Victor Lindelof who is one of the players a yellow card away from missing the second leg.
Krasnodar defender Andreas Granqvist is the man who is entrusted with the captains’ armband on Friday night.
In what feels a million miles away from the World Cup winning side in 2006, Italy are facing missing out on the finals for the first time in 60 years, the last time Azzurri missed out was in 1958. Like their hosts on Friday night, the Italians were another side who always faced a tough test in gaining automatic qualification. Gian Piero Ventura’s side were competing in Group G, a group headlined by Spain.
Although the Italians finished five points adrift of their Spanish rivals, the Blues made incredibly tough work of a relatively easy group. After losing 3-0 away to the group winners in early September, Italy limped their way through the remaining three games. Only coming away with 1-0 wins against the likes of Israel and Albania, the Italians also played out a 1-1 draw with Macedonia.
However, Azzurri will enter the contest as undoubtedly the favorites due to their star-studded side. Ventura’s defensive line consists of Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini to name just a few. But, despite the experience in their squad, Italy have conceded in nine of their last 11 away games, something the Swedes will be looking to capitalise on.
Italy will enter Friday’s game with a dwindling list of striking options. Both Lazio’s Ciro Immobile and Torino’s Andrea Belotti are highly doubtful as neither star is fully fit. To add to Ventura’s problems, inform Valencia forward Zaza had to withdraw from training after his knee injury became worse, he will travel with the squad though.
Key Factors to Consider
- Italy have only lost once to Sweden in the six times that the two have met in the past
- Sweden have scored in 12 of their last 13 games at home
- The Italians have conceded at least one goal in nine of their last 11 away games
- Sweden striker Marcus Berg has scored six goals in his last 4 international appearances
- Italy could potentially miss out on the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years
It has all the makings of a game that could have goals at both ends of the pitch. Sweden enter Friday’s game with a brilliant record at home, while the Italians have grown a reputation for shipping at least one goal on their travels.
While Italy may be without three of their first choice forwards, they do have an experienced side who have found the back of the net in 92% of their away games since the start of 2015. As two of the largest countries in the play-off matches, both sides will be looking to get an early advantage ahead of their second meeting on Monday night. Backing both teams to score at 1/1 looks like the best bet.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best Odds: 1/1
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