Italy will look to seal a place in the Top 2 of Group G when they host Macedonia at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on Friday

The first stage of the European leg of the World Cup qualifiers is set to come to an end this week, with the last two rounds of the group stage. In Group G, Italy can go on to seal their place in the Top 2 as they play hosts to Macedonia at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on Friday.

Giampiero Ventura’s men currently sit second in Group G, three points behind Spain, with pretty much negligible chance of topping the group. However, the Azzurri come into this match on the back of a positive result – a hard-fought 1-0 win over Israel that consolidated second place in the group.

Macedonia, on the other hand, stand no chance of qualifying for the World Cup as they currently sit 12 points off second spot, with just two games to go. However, they built some positive momentum in their last two qualifiers last month, beating Israel 1-0 before playing out a 1-1 draw against third placed Albania.

The reverse fixture, played in Skopje earlier in the campaign ended in a dramatic late win for Italy as Ciro Immobile scored the winner in injury time. Ahead of the two sides’ latest meeting on Friday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Italy

Giampiero Ventura’s squad has been hit badly by injuries ahead of the latest set of World Cup qualifiers. The Italy boss has seen four key players pull out their names from his squad due to their respective short-term injuries.

The first among these was Andrea Belotti, who sustained a knee injury last weekend that will reportedly keep him out of action for four weeks. But, midfield is the worst hit area for Ventura, with Marco Verratti (abductor injury), Daniele De Rossi (knee) and Lorenzo Pellegrini (calf) pulling outing of the squad as well.

Verratti was replaced by Nicolo Barella, who was due to make his debut for the Italy under-21 side, but instead earned a maiden senior call-up. Also earning his first call-up to the first-team setup is Bryan Cristante, who joined the squad alongside Roberto Gagliardini.

In the absence of Verratti and De Rossi, the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta and Ricardo Montolivo will have the responsibility to control the midfield, while the in-form Simone Zaza is in contention to replace Belotti.

Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Buffon; Zappacosta, Bonucci, Chiellini, Darmian; Candreva, Marchisio, Montolivo, Insigne; Immobile, Eder

Italy

Macedonia

Unlike his counterpart in the Italy dugout, Igor Angelovski does not have any pressing injury concerns affecting his squad, with most of his key first-team players fit and available for the last two qualifying fixtures.

But, left-back Kire Ristevski is unavailable due to accumulation of yellow cards. The key man for the Macedonia boss is undoubtedly Goran Pandev, the veteran Genoa striker and his country’s all-time top scorer, who will hope to lead his side one last shock in the qualifying campaign on Friday.

The Macedonia captain is likely to have Ilija Nestorovski for company up front, with the Palermo striker being one of the form players for the minnows. In the midfield, Enis Bardhi and Stefan Spirovski will have the responsibility to negate the threat of the Italy attack, while Stole Dimitrievski will likely be peppered by a barrage of shots by the hosts.

Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Dimitrievski; Ristovski, Musliu, Velkoski, Alioski; Trickovski, Spirovski, Bardhi, Trajkovski; Pandev, Nestorovski

Macedonia

Key Stats

  • The two sides have previously met just once, the World Cup qualifier last year in Skopje. An entertaining affair, Italy battled hard to prevail 3-2.
  • Italy are unbeaten in seven home games since Giampiero Ventura took charge, winning six while drawing just one of the games.
  • The Azzurri have not conceded a single goal in their last five games at home, meaning Macedonia will have a sizable task at their hands.
  • Macedonia have won just two of their last 26 away games, although both the successful results came in their last two games.
  • Italy are unbeaten in home qualifiers since their inception in 1934.

Player To Watch

Ciro Immobile

Man in form. (Photo courtesy - Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Man in form. (Photo courtesy – Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Immobile has turned his career around and how, since joining Lazio last summer. A journeyman of sorts through a long career, he failed to make a mark at clubs like Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla and many opined that he would be one of the many who promised much with their potential but failed to live up to it.

Since the move though, Immobile has become one of the most prolific players in Italy, and has started the 2017-18 season with a bang as well. 14 goals in his last 12 games, the striker is the most in-form player in the squad, and in the absence of Andrea Belotti, it will be up to him to take his side over the line once again.

Prediction

Italy 2-0 Macedonia

The top spot seems out of Italy’s reach after a poor performance against Spain resulted in a 3-0 thrashing. Unless, the Group G toppers are shocked in their remaining two fixtures against Albania and Israel, the playoffs seem to be the route that the Azzurri will be taking towards the World Cup.

On Saturday, Giampiero Ventura’s men can at least cement second spot in the group with a draw or a better result. Judging by their home record in qualifiers, anything other than an Italy win will be a huge surprise, and with Ciro Immobile in lethal form, it should be an easy outing for the hosts. We predict a 2-0 win for Italy.

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