Four-time world champions Italy carry a deficit into the second leg against Sweden at the San Siro as the nations battle it out for one of the last spots at next year’s World Cup.
Here’s our prediction on how things will go down.
Italy v Sweden
After setting Euro 2016 alight with their sensational play on the counter under Antonio Conte where they defeated Belgium, Spain and Sweden, it’s fair to say Italy have been bitterly disappointing since Gianpiero Ventura took the reins. In qualifying, the Azzuri lacked purpose going forward and that has really impacted their ability to grind out victories – something the Italians traditionally do better than any other nation. Now, after a very underwhelming display in Stockholm, they find themselves down 1-0 and on the brink of the unthinkable – failure to qualify for Russia 2018.
For Sweden, life after the retirement of their greatest-ever player- Zlaten Ibrahimovic – is going better than expected. They finished second in a tough group behind France and essentially knocked out the Dutch. Leipzig playmaker Emil Forsberg is by far the most creative player for Sweden and his enterprising play certainly caused a number of headaches for the Azzuri backline. But they did look vulnerable at times at the back dealing with crosses from either flank.
Sweden were tenacious and determined in the first leg and they certainly deserved their victory, however, they face a very different proposition in Milan. Not only will the Swedes have to contend with what will be a much-improved Italy outfit and parochial home crowd but also history. Italy have never lost a World Cup qualifier on home soil and in that run they’ve only ever failed to win on eight occasions. On top of that remarkable stat, Italy have only ever failed to qualify for one World Cup and that was back in 1958.
The Azzuri are up against it but adversity often brings the best out of them and we just can’t see them missing out on a place at Russia 2018.
Prediction: Italy to qualify @ $1.87