Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 19/20
In the fifth round of the ongoing qualifications for the World Cup in Qatar next year, Switzerland will be welcoming European champions Italy to St. Jakob Park in Basel on Sunday in Group C. The last time these two teams met was at the Euros earlier this year, when Italy emerged victorious by 3-0.
Despite the mentioned defeat to Italy, Switzerland pulled off one of the greater surprises at the tournament by eliminating world champions France in the round of 16 on penalties. They were 3-1 down going into the final 10 minutes of the match, but a second goal from Haris Seferovic and a late strike by Mario Gavranovic ensured it went into extra-time, before Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe missed the last penalty and granted the Swiss a place in the quarterfinals. Vladimir Petkovic’s team were knocked out there by Spain, also on penalties.
Switzerland have only played two matches of these qualifications so far, winning 1-3 in Bulgaria and beating Lithuania at home by 1-0. These six points have them in second place the group, despite all the other teams having played more games. Therefore, they’ll be welcoming Italy with very little pressure on their shoulders, though they will certainly look to take something from the contest.
Petkovic’s squad has been seriously depleted for this break. Winger Xherdan Shaqiri, striker Breel Embolo, left-back Loris Benito and right-back Kevin Mbabu have all withdrawn due to various issues. Midfielder Granit Xhaka is a huge doubt following a positive COVID-19 test a few days ago. It will be interesting to see how they line up in such circumstances.
Yann Sommer should be in goal, with Manuel Akanji commanding the back line ahead of him. Denis Zakaria should have a place in the middle of the park, with Seferovic leading the line upfront.
The European Championship is, of course, over and it’s back to business for Roberto Mancini and his men. It should be said that they played very good football throughout the tournament, showing great desire to lift the trophy that eventually ‘went to Rome’ as they triumphed over England on penalties in the final. They certainly deserved it.
At the moment, Italy are an excellent combination of young talent and veterans of experience difficult to match, and no team in the world would be welcoming the prospect of facing them in a competitive match gladly.
Nonetheless, they, unlike Switzerland, don’t have a 100% percent record in the World Cup qualifications so far, but they still top the group with 10 points. They’ve played four matches, winning three and drawing one. First they beat Northern Ireland at home by 2-0, then Bulgaria away by 0-2, and Lithuania away by the same result. The only match they failed to win was at home against Bulgaria on Thursday – it finished 1-1, as Atanas Iliev managed to cancel out Federico Chiesa’s opener.
Manuel Locatelli was suspended against Bulgaria, but he’s available for selection now and likely to compete with Nicolo Barella for a place in midfield.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci should form the centre-back partnership again. Ciro Immobile should be supported upfront by Lorenzo Insigne and Chiesa. The spot between the posts belongs, of course, to Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The Swiss are a very good team, there can be no doubt there, but Italy will be looking to set the matters right after the disappointing result against Bulgaria. If they play the way they’ve proven they can, there will be very little the home side will be able to do to stop them, especially with several key players missing.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 19/20
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