Sweden vs Italy Preview:
Probable starting lineups:
Olsen, Augustinsson, Granqvist, Lindelof, Krafth, Forsberg, Ekdal, Johansson, Larsson, Berg, Toivonen
Buffon, Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini, Florenzi, Insigne, Veratti, Rossi, Candreva, Belotti, Immobile
Sweden and Italy face each other in one of the most interesting ties of the World Cup 2018 play-offs. The Scandinavians finished second in their qualifying groups, behind France, but ahead of the Netherlands. Many believed Sweden will struggle after their key player Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his retirement from international football, but that wasn't a case this time. Even more, Sweden have scored 39 goals in 15 games since he retired. Coach Janne Andersson composed a solid team that obtained good results. The home form should particularly be mentioned - Sweden won the last matches in Stockholm, including the valuable victory over France in June. Andersson will be missing the suspended defender Mikael Lustig with Emil Krafth probably replacing him. In addition, Jimmy Durmaz is rated as doubtful due to injury.
Italy are the big name in the World Cup history and they are between the most successful football nations. They have won the World Cup on four occasions, the most recently in 2006. The Azzurri had a previous experience in play-offs as they were better than Russia and secured participation at the World Cup 1998 in France. Coach Gian Piero Ventura has most of his players available, only Simone Zaza is injured. The defense is a strong trademark for Italy. Ventura will start with experienced Bonucci and Chiellini as central defenders in front of Buffon and I believe they are able to handle with Swedish strikers. Maybe Italy have a problem to score in the latest period, but conceded just one goal on the last three official matches - from Macedonia. At the same time all three games have finished with Under 2.5 goals. Look the results:
09.10.2017. Albania v Italy 0:1
06.10.2017. Italy v Macedonia 1:1
05.09.2017. Italy v Israel 1:0
Finally, few words about the last mutual game. Italy won 1:0 in the group stage of the European Championship in 2016 thanks to the late goal scored by Eder.
Sweden vs Italy Prediction:
I expect a tight match at Friends Arena in Stockholm. Italy are four-time World Cup winners, they are strong and experienced side. But Sweden should not be underestimated, especially when play at home. They have a strong record against Italy, losing just one of the 8 games as hosts. It is hard to predict the winner, but I think there will be no more than two goals in this match.
Sweden vs Italy Pick: Under 2.5 goals