Sweden vs Italy preview, betting tips and prediction: Azzurri to lay foundation for World Cup progression

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Score draw

Italy to win and Andrea Belotti to score first

Italy to win 2-1

Sweden host Italy in the first leg of their play off for World Cup qualification in Stockholm on Friday night. Both sides impressed in spells during the campaign to reach Russisa next summer, but weren’t strong enough to go through as group winners. Sweden finished four points behind one of the tournament favourites France in Group A, while the Italians came in behind Spain, who are looking to recapture former glories after a terrible showing at the last World Cup G, despite their loss in Madrid being the only defeat they suffered in ten games.

While Sweden have never really made their mark on the international stage other than being a decent international side, Italy are football royalty. Four World Cup wins puts them joint with Germany and only one behind Brazil; while they are not at the pace they were when they won it last in 2006, they do look in better shape than the last two tournaments when they failed to qualify from the group stages. They scored 21 in qualifying, conceding eight, and they should be favourites in this clash.

We believe they will reach Russia, with Andrea Belotti proving the difference over both legs, but the first meeting could be tight.

Form

Sweden were never favourites to top their World Cup qualification group next to France, who have one of the most exciting teams in the world on paper and reached the final of Euro 2016. But they ran Les Bleus close, finishing just four points behind Didier Deschamps’ side after losing just three of their ten games. Before a loss to the Netherlands, who miss out on the World Cup for the second time in 15 years, last time out, they flexed their muscles in an attacking sense with an 8-0 home win over Luxembourg and a 4-0 win at Belarus.

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Typically, Italy have been more reserved of late. They stumbled to a 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia in their lasr qualifier, but second place was already secured ahead of Albania, who finished ten points adrift. Following that 3-0 defeat to Spain at the Santiago Bernabeu, Gianpiero Ventura’s men were frustrated but did beat Isreal. It is quite clear to see the Azzurri are still a work in progress and, although we believe they will reach the World Cup, it is far from certain and Sweden will fancy their chances of an upset this week.

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Italy have called up Valencia star Simone Zaza for the first time in a year for this tie. The forward has been in incredible form this season, scoring eight goals for Los Che and that has been enough to persuade Ventura to give him another go in the famous blue shirt. Belotti is a big inclusion after missing the last squad through injury, while Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi and Napoli’s Jorginho are also available after long spells away from the scene.

Celtic defender Mikel Lustig is in the squad but will miss the first leg through suspension, while Manchester United centre back Victor Lindelof could also feature. It would be a great time for him to return to form after a shaky start to his Old Trafford career. Former Manchester City striker John Guidetti will be a big threat up front.

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