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Italy’s plan for Sweden in WCup playoff: ‘Play like Italy’

“It’s a big moment for me but also for the players,” Ventura added. “Going or not going to a World Cup means something. For some it’s the beginning of a cycle, for others it’s a matter of finishing in a certain manner.” Captain Gianluigi Buffon made his first appearance for Italy in a World Cup playoff against Russia on a snowy pitch in 1997. Having announced he plans to retire from the national team, the playoff could mark his final international matches. In one of the four European playoffs, Italy travels to Stockholm for the opening leg on Friday. The return match will be at Milan’s San Siro Stadium three days later. In qualifying, Ventura relied on Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile — two players he previously coached at Torino — for goals. But there are questions over their fitness. Belotti, who scored 26 goals with Torino in Serie A last season, appears to be at only 60-70 percent capacity as he works his way back from a right knee injury. Immobile leads the Italian league with 14 goals in 11 matches this season but recently strained a leg muscle. On the positive side, Simone Zaza was recalled after scoring eight goals in his last seven league games for Valencia; wingers Antonio Candreva, Lorenzo Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy are also in top form; and key midfielders Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi return after missing the final two qualifiers through injury. Mario Balotelli, meanwhile, hasn’t played for Italy since the Azzurri’s first-round elimination from the 2014 World Cup. He remains out of the squad. While Sweden didn’t qualify for the last two World Cups, it impressed in qualifying with a win over France and finished ahead of the Netherlands in its group. Read more… http://ift.tt/2Aol0rJ


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