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Italy Handed Toughest Possible Draw in World Cup Playoffs

Source: @azzurri via Twitter

Having appeared in 14 consecutive World Cup finals, it would be almost unthinkable for four-time former champions Italy not to qualify for next summer’s showpiece event in Russia. However, the Azzurri’s hopes of competing for a fifth crown now rest on a tricky two-legged play-off against Sweden in November.


With Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Croatia, Denmark and Greece also in the pot, the Italians have been handed arguably the toughest possible draw, although they will be happy to be playing the second leg at home. The ties will take place on November 10 and 13, with the four winners all progressing to the main event in 2018.

Sweden have appeared in 11 World Cup Finals but have not qualified since 2006. However, they will fancy their chances here against an Italian team who have failed to live up to expectations under Coach Giampiero Ventura. When the two sides met at the 2016 European Championships, it was Antonio Conte’s Italians who came out on top courtesy of a single goal from Eder Martins. In fact, six of the last nine meetings between the two nations have ended with a 1-0 scoreline.

With Italy not yet qualified, the bookmakers are offering long odds for them to win the World Cup – the same as already-qualified England. At that price, punters who remember their shock win in 2006 might be inspired to take the plunge. You won’t get much value backing Italy to qualify for the tournament itself but if you fancy Sweden to cause an upset, there are decent prices to be had. You could even lower your risk by using one or more of the many bookmaker bonuses, such as £50 boylesports offers, being a prime currently available.

In the first leg, scheduled for November 9, Italy will start as favourites but a draw would probably represent a good result. Sweden are unbeaten in their last seven home qualifying matches in all competitions and only Germany and Portugal have beaten them in their last 13 World Cup qualifiers at home. Only four months ago, the Blagult beat World Cup second favourites France 2-1 in qualifying Group A. As a result, a best price of 12/5 for a first-leg draw looks decent value.

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The good news for the Italians is that the second leg will be played at home and that is often an advantage in these two-legged situations. The Swedes have lost four of their last six on the road in World Cup qualifying with their only wins coming against Belorussia and Luxembourg, ranked 91st and 93rd respectively. What’s more, Italy have a decent record against the Scandinavian side with their last competitive defeat coming 30 years ago in the European Championships.
Despite some unconvincing performances of late, the Azzurri, with their unique blend of tactical pragmatism and passionate enthusiasm, can still be expected to get the job done.

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