Italy fear missing finals for the first time since 1958
Italy are bracing themselves for a torrid night in Milan where they must come from behind if they are not to miss out on their first World Cup finals in 60 years.
Rugged Sweden dished out plenty of punishment in Friday’s 1-0 first-leg victory in Stockholm, and Italian centre-back Leonardo Bonucci will play tonight with a protective mask after his nose was broken in a clash with Ola Toivonen during the match.
Gian Piero Ventura, the Italy coach who took over from Chelsea’s Antonio Conte after Euro 2016, was unhappy with referee Cuneyt Cakir and claimed the Turk treated the home players too leniently.
He said: “I think the match could have been controlled in a more sportsmanlike manner, and that much is evident if someone has to play with a mask on.
“But we are Italy. If we qualify, we do so by playing football. I don’t know what kind of match it will be but I hope there will be better sporting behaviour.”
Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, the veteran goalkeeper who is due to retire at the end of the season, admits he is preparing for a night of high anxi- ety in the San Siro. The 2006 World Cup winner, now 39, said: “It’s a very tense moment. Personally I have been tense since Friday. It’s inevitable looking at what’s at stake and looking at the responsibility that each one of us must have. I hope there won’t be Juventus, Inter or AC Milan supporters, just Italy supporters. I’d like those who attend to take off their club colours.”
Sweden midfielder Sebastian Larsson is taking nothing for granted. “It’s not a normal qualifier, we’re only halfway through this double-header,” he said.
Italy last failed to make the finals in 1958 when, requiring a point in their final group game, they lost 2-1 in Northern Ireland. An earlier game in Belfast had finished 2-2, but it was given friendly status after the referee failed to arrive. Fifa ordered a restaging and Northern Ireland went on to reach the World Cup quarter-finals – in Sweden.