Juventus Stadium, Turin
10th September, 19:45 BST
Italy host Czech Republic at the Juventus Stadium tonight in a crucial World Cup qualifier. Italy currently hold a huge seven points lead over second placed Bulgaria in the points table. If they manage to match Bulgaria’s result against Malta tonight, they could possibly become the first European team to book a spot in the next year’s World Cup. Czech Republic, on the other hand, will be desperate to get a result tonight as they blew a golden opportunity to overtake Bulgaria to the second spot in their last match. Although the Italians look to be the likeliest group winner, the place for the play-offs is still up for grabs as Denmark, Armenia and Czech Republic are all on nine points – just one point behind second placed Bulgaria. This battle could possibly go down to the wire.
In the reverse fixture, held back in June, Italy and Czech Republic played out a goalless draw in Prague. Although the Italians will start as favorites on their home soil, it is evident that the visitors will be more desperate than the hosts for a win tonight.
Cesare Prandelli, whose future in this job has been a matter of much speculation in recent times, faces a long injury list ahead of this fixture. Andrea Barzagli, Ignazio Abate, Luca Antonelli and Claudio Marchisio are all out of contention for this fixture with injuries. But there is also good news in the form of Mario Balotelli and former Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo, both returning from suspension in this match.
It looks likely that both Balotelli and Osvaldo will feature tonight, in place of Alberto Gilardino and Lorenzo Insigne (who is also struggling with his fitness). Prandelli is expected to change his formation from a narrow 4-3-2-1 to a more dynamic 3-5-2. With Barzagli out injured Daniele De Rossi is expected to drop back to the defence alongside Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, although there is also a possibility of Andrea Ranocchia starting in this game if Prandelli wishes to deploy De Rossi in the midfield. Sunderland’s new signing Emanuele Giaccherini will also get a start on the left wing, in place of injured Abate. Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Antonio Candreva are expected to form the midfield while Thiago Motta, who started in the last match, drops back to the bench.
Prandelli has mostly used this formation against strong opponents like Spain, but injuries have virtually forced his hands tonight. While Manuel Pasqual and Lorenzo De Silvestri have been called up for the national team as replacements for Antonelli and Abate, neither of them are likely to feature tonight.
Prandelli’s main concern would be that Giaccherini is not used to playing as a wing-back and this could possibly leave Italy vulnerable on the left flank. Christian Maggio is not the best of defenders either, but he is more comfortable playing wing back than a right back. Abate’s absence might turn out to be crucial tonight. But Italy might also be helped by the fact that Czech Republic don’t play with any natural wingers and depend mostly on their full-backs to provide width. If Giaccherini can push back Czech right-back Selassie, then Italy have a very good chance of stifling the Czech attack as the midfield will be crowded.
Italy might have won their last match against Bulgaria, but despite the importance of that result they didn’t put in a very convincing performance and were eventually saved by Buffon’s reflexes. They will need to be sharper against Czech Republic, who will be desperate to prove a point tonight.
Starting Line-Up (3-5-2) – Buffon (GK); Chiellini, De Rossi, Bonucci; Giaccherini, Montolivio, Pirlo, Candreva, Maggio; Balotelli, Osvaldo
Unlike Prandelli, Michal Bilek doesn’t have any injury concern aheads of this fixture. On the contrary, Vladimir Darida has returned from suspension and could prove to be a major boost in the midfield.
Darida’s return could force a change in formation for Czech Republic. Bilek is likely to field a 4-3-1-2 formation, instead of a 4-2-3-1. Darida will partner Josef Husbauer and Jaroslav Plasil in the midfield with Tomas Rosicky pulling the string in attack ahead of them. Jirasek will drop to the bench, while Kadlec is likely to start upfront alongside Kozak. Along with Rosicky, Kozak could be the key in attack as he likes to drift out wide; in this game it could be of great advantage as he would look to exploit the right wing where Giaccherini will be playing out of position.
Czech Republic’s defensive performance in the match against Armenia could be a cause for worry for Michal Bilek. They went behind in the first half to a goal from Karlen Mkrtchyan, but Tomas Rosicky leveled the score in the second half. But Czech Republic failed to hold on to the score Gevorg Ghazaryan scored the winner in the dying minutes of the match. Conceding such a late goal, in such a crucial fixture would have irked Michal Bilek, and the way things stand at the moment, that goal could yet prove to be crucial in their attempt to qualify for the World Cup.
With everything on the line, Czech Republic have little option than to take an aggressive approach in this game. They need to take the game to the Italians, who looked shaky against Bulgaria in their last match. Tomas Rosicky will once again be critical to their hopes of getting a result in this game.
Starting Line-up (4-3-1-2) – Cech (GK); Sellasie, Sivok, Kadlec, Limbersky; Husbauer, Plasil, Darida; Rosicky; Kozak, Kadlec
Players to watch out for
Mario Balotelli (Italy); Libor Kozak (Czech Republic)
Italy 2-1 Czech Republic