Baku National Stadium,Bakcell Arena
Saturday 10th October, 2015, 16:00 GMT
Italy play away against Azerbaijan on Saturday in their Euro 2016 Group H qualifier, knowing a win would book their place at the Euros next year in France. The Azzurri are on top of their group with 18 points after eight games while Azerbaijan are second-last on six points. Antonio Contea s team won their last qualifier 1-0 against Bulgaria while Robert Prosineckia s side drew 2-2 with Malta. Italy won their previous encounter with Azerbaijan 2-1 at the Stadio Renzo Barbera in Palermo last year with Giorgio Chiellini contributing to all three goals. The Juventus defender scored both of the Azzurri goals as well as an own goal.
The Italians have never lost a match against Azerbaijan. In addition to the 2-1 win from October 2014, the Azzurri won 2-0 in Baku and 4-0 in Reggio Calabria in the Euro 2004 Qualifiers. To make things harder for Azerbaijan, Italy are unbeaten in 48 international qualifiers since losing 3-1 to France in 2006. Azerbaijan had lost their first four Euro 2016 qualifiers but new coach Prosinecki has turned things around. Since the Croatian legend has taken over, they are unbeaten having won a match and grabbed three draws.
Team news and tactics
With no chance of qualification, there is no pressure on Azerbaijan against their Italian opponents, which allows them to express themselves on the pitch. In terms of this campaign, it has been difficult for the nation as they have faced Italy, Norway, Croatia, Bulgaria and Malta, picking up just the one victory out of eight games so far. Overall, they have lost four times in the qualifying stage, but they have gained three draws and are unbeaten in their last four matches, which could pose an issue for Italy. The positive change for Azerbaijan has been the appointment of new head coach Robert Prosinecki, who took over in December last year on a two-year deal, replacing Berti Vogts. Since his arrival, the team have secured one victory and drawn three qualifiers in the campaign, suggesting that Italy may find it more challenging than some predict to get a result.
The hosts have a clean bill of health heading into this weekend’s game, with captain Rasad Sadiqov expected to win his 100th international cap. Ruslan Qurbanov is likely to spearhead Azerbaijan’s attack, while Gara Garayev will keep things ticking in the middle of the park in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Dimitrij Nazarov is one booking away from a suspension.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-1-4-1):Aghayev(Gk); Dashdemirov, Guseynov, Mirzabekov, Sadygov; Garayev; Amirguliyev, Ismayilov, Nazarov, Mammadov; Qurbanov
Antonio Conte’s side are currently two points above second-placed Norway, whom they will face in their final Group H qualifier next week, so if they fail to get a victory over Azerbaijan, they still have a chance to top the group in their closing fixture. It has been a positive spell for the Italians as they have gone unbeaten in their last 48 matches following 37 victories and 11 draws, but they have struggled for maximum points in their last few trips on the road. Italy have dropped points in their last two away qualifiers as they could only draw 2-2 with Bulgaria and later recorded a 1-1 draw with Croatia. Goals have also been hard to come by for the Azzurri, but they have kept to their traditional defensive displays as just under 2 goals have been scored in five of their last six Euro fixtures.
Italy will be without Daniele de Rossi as he begins serving a two-match ban, while Lorenzo Insigne is also missing as he has been forced to withdraw from the squad with a knee injury that he suffered in training. Alessandro Florenzi is expected to start in midfield while Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian is likely to start on the right side, with Marco Verratti orchestrating play from midfield.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3):Buffon(Gk); Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; Florenzi, Verratti, Parolo; Candreva, Pelle, El Shaarawy
- Azerbaijan have drawn their last 3 matches in the European Championship (including qualifiers).
- Italy are undefeated in their last 8 matches in the European Championship (including qualifiers).
- Italy have won their last 3 matches against Azerbaijan in all competitions.
Players to Watch Out For
Graziano Pelle (Italy)
Southampton’s Graziano Pelle is likely to provide the goal threat for Italy after scoring five Premier League goals for the Saints so far this season.
Azerbaijan 0-1 Italy
Azerbaijan may be unbeaten in their last four European fixtures, but with qualification to the finals in sight, Italy are likely to have enough quality in the team to get a victory and therefore book their place in Paris. With Graziano Pelle in positive goalscoring form, the forward could get on the scoresheet for his nation.
Blast From the Past
Italy already have an advantage over Azerbaijan, having beaten them 2-1 in Palermo thanks to a brace from Georgio Chiellini, who was also unfortunate to score an own goal in the match.