Giampiero Ventura’s Nazionale team are set to battle Albania in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Palermo this evening.
A “new-look” Azzurri side will face another test on their road to Russia 2018, as Albania stands in the way of 3 crucial points.
Italy’s (Last 5 Games): WDWWD
The Italians currently sit 2nd in Group G behind Spain, both with 10 points but it’s based on goal differential. Their last qualifier was against a weak Liechtenstein, as the Azzurri came out victorious 4-0 with ‘Il Gallo‘ Belotti on target twice. Before that, a desperate comeback took place in Macedonia, as Ciro Immobile scored a brace in the last 15 minutes of the game, securing 3 precious points after a few shocking mistakes almost cost them. Then came a hard-working 1-1 draw against the rival Spaniards, setting up a crucial tie back in Spain next September which should decide who tops the group. However, this match will be no cakewalk for Ventura’s men, as anything less than 3 points will put them in a scary position going into June’s qualifier.
Albania’s (Last 5 Games): DWWLL
After starting the qualifying campaign with two wins over Macedonia and Liechtenstein, the Albanians have lost back-to-back matches coming into Palermo tonight. Looking to get back on track, a victory will put them in the hunt for the 2nd spot, which will be a tall task with the likes of Spain and Italy leading the way. If they could somehow snatch an early goal, sitting back and earning a point would be a huge positive for them. A dangerous side with a few players that can definitely hurt you with lack of focus.
Azzurri’s Key Players:
Maro Verratti: The anchor in the midfield to say the least. Verratti will look to take control of the match tonight as the 4-2-4 formation Ventura is projected to deploy should allow for several chances to run through him. Playing beside a solid destroyer in Daniele De Rossi, the diminutive playmaker’s involvement will be crucial for ‘La Nazionale’s’ success in this match.
Andrea Belotti: Serie A’s leading goal scorer will anchor the front line alongside Ciro Immobile this evening, bearing a lot of the weight on his shoulders. With 3 goals in his last 2 qualifying games, look for wingers and midfielders to try penetrating the Albanian defence by launching through balls into the Torino bomber. Supported by several skilled players, look for the former Palermo hitman to get his chances in front of goal.
Albania’s Key Players:
Elseid Hysaj: Many of you may know him as Napoli’s right full-back, as he’s the best all around player on Giovanni De Biasi’s Albanian side. He will have his hands full today however, with Lorenzo Insigne and either Immobile or Belotti most likely attacking on his side for the majority of the match.
Arlind Ajeti: Also currently in Serie A, the 23-year-old Torino man is reported to be starting the match as one of the central defenders. After impressing in the Euros last summer and being injured in the last round of qualifications, Ajeti is listed as probable of getting the start and will face most of his domestic league foes. If the match starts to go towards the Azzurri’s way, he will be crucial in defending his goal.
Italy’s Probable Lineup (4-2-4): Buffon; Zappacosta, Bonucci, Barzagli, De Sciglio; Verratti, De Rossi; Candreva, Immobile, Belotti, Insigne.
Albania’s Probable Lineup (4-5-1): Strakosha; Hysaj, Ajeti, Veseli, Agolli; Roshi, Xhaka, Memushaj, Abrashi, Hyka; Balaj.
Instead of going with the vintage Italian 3-5-2, Ventura has decided to go with a more offensive lineup, putting more weight and dependance on the two midfielders to run the show. It should be an interesting match to say the least. Three crucial points are on the line, all of which the Azzurri hope to capture in captain Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th career match.