Italians feeling the pressure in bid to overturn first-leg deficit
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.”
Italy v Sweden, SS Football, 7.45pm