Ital­ians feel­ing the pres­sure in bid to over­turn first-leg deficit

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Italy’s be­lea­guered coach, Gian Piero Ven­tura, has said his team will try to qual­ify for the World Cup in Rus­sia by “play­ing foot­ball” tonight af­ter their ill-tem­pered play-off first leg against Swe­den.

Ven­tura said it would take him months to lis­ten to all the ad­vice he had re­ceived as he bids to over­turn Fri­day’s 1-0 first leg de­feat in Stock­holm.

That loss left Italy in dan­ger of miss­ing a World Cup fi­nals for the first time in 60 years and the ten­sion ahead of the re­turn game at the San Siro is pal­pa­ble.

Italy com­plained of rough play by Swe­den in the first leg, in­clud­ing a chal­lenge which left de­fender Leonardo Bouncci with a bro­ken nose, while Swe­den were un­happy at their ri­vals’ al­leged games­man­ship. Bouncci will play wear­ing a face mask.

“We are Italy and, if we qual­ify, I would like to be able to say that we did it by play­ing foot­ball,” Ven­tura said. “I don’t know what sort of game it will be but I hope it will be played in the cor­rect spirit.”

Ven­tura’s tac­tics and team se­lec­tion have been the sub­ject of heated de­bate. He ditched his pre­ferred 4-2-4 for­ma­tion for

Gian­luigi Buf­fon said Italy are in a state of ‘high ten­sion’ as they face not qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 a 3-5-2 in Fri­day’s match and Ital­ians are ea­ger to see what he will come up with and who will re­place sus­pended mid­fielder Marco Ver­ratti.

“I’ve re­ceived so much ad­vice in the last few days that, if I tried to lis­ten to it all, it would take months,” said Ven­tura. “I know that’s how it works when you are coach of the na­tional team although I didn’t ex­pect it to be quite like this. I can as­sure you that coaches lis­ten to ad­vice and an­a­lyse it, but it is us who de­cide.”

Italy’s vet­eran goal­keeper and cap­tain, Gian­luigi Buf­fon, said the team were in a state of “high ten­sion”.

“We can make no mis­takes, we are fo­cus­ing on what we must do to win but if we fail to qual­ify ev­ery­body should take the blame. We are not stressed, per­son­ally I am fo­cused on the game and I hope fans will sup­port us. Swe­den are a solid side and their be­hav­iour will make lit­tle dif­fer­ence, it all de­pends on us,” he said.

“We know we can win this game, we dream to qual­ify for the World Cup, it’s an im­por­tant game for us and for the his­tory of the na­tional team.

“I’ve al­ready faced sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions in my ca­reer, some­times I’ve suc­ceeded, some other times I’ve failed. The game means a lot for all of us, not only for me. My sit­u­a­tion is not im­por­tant at the mo­ment. It would be a great sat­is­fac­tion to qual­ify for the World Cup.”

Reuters

Italy v Swe­den, SS Foot­ball, 7.45pm

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