The moment has finally arrived. The Azzurri are now in last-chance saloon in terms of reaching Russia 2018, taking part in a play-off that they simply cannot afford to lose. Taking place at 20:45 CET this evening, Sweden vs. Italy is a decisive juncture for the entire sphere of Italian football, with the thought of not qualifying for the World Cup not even worth contemplating.
Friday’s fixture at the Friends Arena in Solna will see the National Team take on Sweden for the 24th time in history, and despite a positive record against the Scandinavian outfit (11 wins, six draws and six defeats), this will have little impact on the present. Sweden have a respected list of honours ( 1948 Olympic Gold, runners-up at the 1958 World Cup and two third place finishes at the 1950 and 1994 World Cups), however these are linked to a different and historic point in time. Determination and resilience will be needed, although technical skills must not be ignored, as noted by Daniele De Rossi in his pre-match press conference: “What’s at stake is so important that the concept of ‘blood and sweat’ is alright, we’ll give everything but we’ll also need composure, organisation, technique and we have to run,” he said. “We must play two intelligent matches, we don’t lack quality and we need to combine it with concentration and experience.” The experienced Azzurri veteran could also achieve a monumental personal goal during the two-legged World Cup play-off, as he is set to pass the 116 appearances set by Andrea Pirlo. This possibility comes in coincidence with the Maestro’s recent retirement, with De Rossi since expressing words of enormous admiration for Pirlo. As for the game itself, coach Gian Piero Ventura has insisted his team will do their utmost to advance: “We must do whatever we can to reach the World Cup,” he said. “Every tactical possibility will be used if needed. My squad are focused and highly motivated.”
The most recent fixture against Sweden saw the National Team advance past the Euro 2016 Group Stage thanks to a decisive goal from Eder. However, Sweden have altered their side a lot since then, and even without the threat of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they do still boast a number of impressive players, such as Lindelof, Forsberg and Berg. Regardless, Italy must have no excuses following this play-off, demonstrating out on the field why they truly deserve to progress to Russia 2018.
It’s time to do the business boys and reach the World Cup. Come on!