Ventura: “We respect Sweden but we’re certain we can reach the World Cup”

Ventura: “We respect Sweden but we’re certain we can reach the World Cu

Following their final training session at Coverciano this morning, the National Team subsequently landed in Stockholm this afternoon where they then travelled to the Friends Arena in Solna. This 50,000 seater stadium will tomorrow host the Azzurri’s first World Cup play-off match against Sweden. Italy will then host the crucial second leg on Monday evening in Milan, where Gian Piero Ventura’s side will be reliant on the support of the Stadio Meazza for what will be a hugely decisive encounter. However prior to this, the Friends Area will no doubt be dominated by the colour yellow on Friday evening, with Swedish coach Jan Olof Andersson assuring the press that his team are more than ready for the first-legged fixture.

As for Gian Piero Ventura’s feelings prior to the match, he is certain that Italy have the ability to progress: “We have a lot of respect for Sweden,” said Ventura in his pre-match press conference. “But we believe that we have the desire and conviction to reach the World Cup. It is a challenge that’ll last 180 minutes and tomorrow it’ll be really important to score goals. The players have prepared for this match in the best way possible. As for what I will say to them before the game, no words of encouragement are needed for an important match like this. We’ll have to stay calm, while also showing awareness and conviction. However, these three components are already part of the players’ skill set.”

Simone Zaza was forced to withdraw from training this morning and Ventura has since had this to say on the issue: “He has a small problem but we are not giving up on him,” the coach added. “If he’s feeling good then he can play. If not then we will look to have him back by Monday.” As for Andrea Belotti, the coach will have the Torino striker available following the injury that previously kept him out of the matches against Macedonia and Albania: “He’s put a lot of work in and if he’s called upon, then he’ll be ready to make a contribution.”

As usual sitting next to Ventura in the press conference was Gigi Buffon, who is the only other Azzurri player to have already played in a World Cup play-off 20 years ago. This was in fact the player’s National Team debut, as he replaced Gianluca Pagliuca between the sticks in Moscow: “These two games are crucial in terms of our potential advancement to an important competition,” said the Azzurri captain. “We have strong links to this tournament, therefore we must give it our all if this is to continue. The players in the squad live for crucial moments like this and they often reflect the dreams that some of us have had since we were children. Should these moments keep arising then they’ll keep giving me the motivation and enthusiasm to keep playing.”

From their 23 previous matches against Sweden, Italy have recorded 11 wins, six draws and six defeats. Their last encounter came during the 2016 European Championship in France, when a late goal from Eder helped the Azzurri progress through to the last 16: “I also remember the match from the 2004 European Championship and this is not a good memory for me,” Buffon added when asked a question by the Swedish press. “We drew on that day and we knew that at the end of the game our chances of progression were slim. The only time I’ve ever played in Sweden was prior to the 1998 World Cup and we lost 1-0 (June 20th 1998 in Gothenburg). They are a respected international team because they are solid and give nothing away. We’ll have to play really well if we are to beat them.” In 2004 a 2-2 draw between Sweden and Denmark eventually eliminated Italy, although the goalkeeper has no desire to seek revenge for past results: “Life goes on. We were knocked out of the European Championship because we should’ve done better.” As for focusing on Sweden’s current outfit, Buffon is still wary of their ability despite the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic: “Ibrahimovic is one of the few world class players who can win a match by touching the ball just once. Without him the other players have more responsibility and Sweden still remain the same tough opponent.”

Squad List 

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Mattia Perin (Genoa);
Defenders: Davide Astori (Fiorentina), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Leonardo Spinazzola (Atalanta), Davide Zappacosta (Chelsea);
Midfielders: Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Antonio Candreva (Inter), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Roberto Gagliardini (Inter), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Jorge Luiz Frello Jorginho (Napoli), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint Germain);
Forwards: Andrea Belotti (Torino), Eder Citadin Martins (Inter), Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Simone Zaza (Valencia).

Italy’s Schedule (All times CET)

Thursday 9th November
10:00   Training MD-1 (First 15 minutes open to press)
16:20  Charter flight from Florence to Stockholm
19:20  Arrive in Stockholm and transfer to Friends Arena
19:45  Walk Around
20:00 Press conference MD-1 (Coach and one player)

Friday 10th November 
20:45       Sweden vs. Italy
Media activity and return to hotel to follow

Saturday 11th November
10:45 Transfer to Stockholm airport
11.45 Flight to Milan Malpensa
14:40 Land at Milan Malpensa and transfer to Suning Centre in Appiano Gentile
16:00 Training (closed to press)

Sunday 12th November
13:45 Press conference MD-1 (Coach and one player)**
15:00 Training MD-1 (First 15 minutes open to press.)**

Monday 13th November
20:45        Sweden vs. Italy
Media Activities to follow

** Reserved to media with accreditation for Italy vs. Sweden. The FIGC will limit access to the press conference room according to the number of places available.

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