San Siro, Milan
Wednesday 15th Nov, 2014, 19:45 GMT
Italy’s clash against Croatia is perhaps the sternest test to date for Antonio Conte. Under their new manager the Azzurri have slowly started rebuilding their battered reputation, putting their abysmal performances in Brazil behind them. They have enjoyed a fine start to their qualifying campaign with three wins (sluggish) in the opening three games, conceding just one goal.
Yet Sunday’s opponents Croatia sit above them atop the Group H standings. Niko Kovac’s side have looked very impressive after their own disappointing summer in Brazil. A 6-0 demolition of minnows Azerbaijan in the previous match week displayed the confidence of the Croats. Midfielder Luka Modric called this clash as the biggest match of this group which will go a long way in deciding the seeding for the tournament proper.
Team news and tactical brief
Antonio Conte will be sticking to his tried and tested 3-5-2 system for this game as well. Leonardo Bonucci was not called up after his red card against Malta in match week 3 while Juventus teammate Angelo Ogbonna was injured in the training session last night; hence Matteo Darmian will most likely take his place in the three-man defence. The Torino player is confident with the ball and will suit Conte’s system of building play from the back. Andrea Ranocchia and Giorgio Chiellini will have to improve their level of performances for this game against a very strong Croatian frontline and midfield. The wingbacks are the most important positions in Conte’s module and he will be happy with the way both his fullbacks have performed so far this year. Mattia De Sciglio has been one of the few positive points in Milan’s disappointing start to the campaign so far while Manuel Pasqual’s displays for Fiorentina have been praiseworthy as well.
Conte faces a major selection headache in the regista position as both Andrea Pirlo and Marco Veratti have been ruled out of this game due to injuries. Daniele De Rossi would be the obvious choice in the middle of the park along with in-form Claudio Marchisio and Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, who has been one of the best performers in Serie A this season. The creativity of the side will be hampered due to the absence of both the registas but De Rossi will no doubt offer more defensive security which will be needed particularly with Darmian taking up a makeshift role in central defence. Candreva would function as the energetic box-to-box midfielder while Marchisio will take up his preferred position as the mezzala out wide. Mario Balotelli was a surprise inclusion in the squad to face Croatia and Albania but Conte is most likely going to start with the pair of Simone Zaza and Ciro Immobile upfront.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Buffon(GK); Chiellini, Darmian, Ranocchia; De Sciglio, De Rossi, Candreva, Marchisio, Pasqual; Zaza, Immobile
Niko Kovac has little or no injury concerns ahead of this game but he will be worried about the form of his central defender Dejan Lovren ahead of this crucial game. The Liverpool man has looked really shaky so far this season and this will be a real test of his character against an agile looking Azzurri front two. Vedran Corluka will be his partner in defence while Sassuolo wingback Sime Vrsaljko will take up the left-back position. Darijo Srna sounded very confident ahead of the game and the skipper would be looking to transform this confidence on the pitch as well. Luka Modric will be the orchestrator in the middle of the park along with Ivan Rakitic playing just behind the front two. Ivan Perisic and Ivica Olic have been the principal protagonists in Wolfsburg’s amazing start to the Bundesliga season so far. Kovac will be hoping his two wide men cause trouble to the Italian fullbacks and they prioritize their defensive duties more which in turn will nullify Italy’s threat on the wings. Conte’s sides have traditionally struggled against teams with good wingers and Kovac will be looking to take advantage of this.
Andrej Kramacic is arguably the hottest striker in Europe at this moment having already scored 25 goals this season. He recently expressed his desire to represent one of the Milanese giants and a good showing against the Italian national team at San Siro will no doubt help him achieve his dream. Mario Mandzukic enjoys his clashes with Giorgio Cheillini and fans all over the world will once again relish the prospect of two fierce professionals going head-to-head on Sunday.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Subasic(GK); Srna, Lovren, Corluka, Vrsaljko; Rakitic, Modric, Olic, Perisic; Mandzukic, Kramacic
Italy’s sole win against Croatia was a 4-0 victory in Genoa on 5th April,1942
No members of that only Italian team to beat Croatia are left alive. Four died at Superga in 1949. Pietro Rava last to pass away in late 2006
Since gaining independence in 1991, Croatia have never lost to the Azzurri.
Italy’s seven matches against Croatia have ended W1 D3 L3 (W1 D0 L2 in Italy, W0 D2 L0 in Croatia), with two of those matches at final tournaments: the 1-1 draw at EURO 2012 and a 2-1 win for Croatia at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Ibaraki, Japan
The two sides met in EURO ’96 qualifying. Miroslav Blažević’s Croatia beat Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy 2-1 in Palermo on 16 November 1994
Players to Watch Out For
Daniele De Rossi (Italy)
The Roma midfielder is a seasoned veteran in the heart of Italy’s midfield and will play a pivotal role tonight with both Andrea Pirlo and Marco Veratti missing. The game will be personally special for Danielino as it will mark his 100th cap for the Azzurri and he will be looking to mark this occasion with a much needed good display against a strong opponent.
Luka Modric (Croatia)
He is not just Real Madrid’s midfield orchestrator; he is his national side’s chief creator as well. As well as helping his club make an impressive start to the season, he has been instrumental in Croatia’s flawless start to the qualifying campaign in Group H. Modric can turn the game at any point with one incisive pass, neat flick or a long ranger.
Italy 1–2 Croatia
Italy have never beaten Croatia and they are not about to start now. Italy’s midfield is severely weakened with the absence of two creative midfielders, Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verrati, while Croatia will send out Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic later maybe. This game will be decided by the visitors’ superior midfield.
Blast From the Past
The last meeting between the two sides came at Euro 2012 in Poland two years ago. Italy went ahead through Andrea Pirlo but Mario Mandzukic clawed one back to secure a draw. Italy would progress at Croatia’s expense from the group stages.