Euro 2020 winners Italy are in the play-offs once again, having missed out on the last World Cup after failing to qualify automatically, with Switzerland having pipped them to first place this time around. However, although a potential play-off with Portugal beckons after this game, the Azzurri shouldn’t have any issues surmounting the first obstacle in their path.
North Macedonia may only have lost once across their last seven fixtures (W3-D3-L1), though that was a heavy 4-0 defeat when Germany visited Skopje. Considering the other fixtures were against the likes of Armenia and Iceland twice each, as well as Romania and Liechtenstein, this run of results perhaps loses some of its shine. Indeed, they had lost their previous three games against Austria, Ukraine and the Netherlands.
Italy have only lost once from an incredible 41 matches now, though they’ve developed a troubling habit of drawing too often. Over 90 minutes, they’re W3-D7-L1 since the knockout stages of Euro 2020, as the likes of Austria, Bulgaria and Northern Ireland have held them to stalemates.
Admittedly, the rest of those draws came against elite outfits Spain and England, as well as a solid Switzerland side on two occasions, so it would be a real shock if they slipped up at home to a side ranked 67th in the world by FIFA.
Italy/Italy - HT/FT
Italy aren’t too far off a full-strength side either, with the biggest problems at the back, where they were unlikely to be tested too much in any case against North Macedonia. Mattia De Sciglio has replaced the injured Giovanni Di Lorenzo at right-back, with Alessandro Florenzi expected to start.
Leonardo Spinazzola remains a long-term absentee on the other flank, while one of Francesco Acerbi or Alessandro Bastoni should deputize for Leonardo Bonucci, who is in the squad but has missed Juventus’ past five matches.
Further forwards, Federico Chiesa is another long-term absentee having suffered a season-ending injury in January, though the blow is lessened by the excellent form of Domenico Berardi.
A star striker remains the missing jigsaw piece for Roberto Mancini, with Ciro Immobile continuing to flounder at international level and Andrea Belotti an uninspiring alternative, while Mario Balotelli has failed to make the cut despite a surprise recall for a national team get-together at the end of January.
Although a prolific frontman may be lacking, Italy haven’t had a problem scoring goals under Roberto Mancini. On home turf alone, they’ve won nine of their last 12, with the only victory that saw them fail to establish a half-time lead coming against another elite side in the form of Belgium.
Decent outfits Poland, Switzerland and Wales were the only other defeated sides to avoid going in at the break at least two goals down, so the Italians should enjoy a comfortable evening in Palermo, even if they ease their foot off the gas in the second half ahead of a potential clash with Portugal.
ITALY/ITALY - HT/FT
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