Italy fear miss­ing fi­nals for the first time since 1958

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Football - By Ben Fin­don

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.

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