Football

'Italy have the world's best defence'

Florenzi confident of Azzurri's place at next year's World Cup

world cup PLAY-OFF, FIRST LEG

SWEDEN ITALY

Italy utility man Alessandro Florenzi warned Sweden that they will have to get past the world's best backline if they are to find the net in their World Cup play-off first leg at the Friends Arena in Stockholm on Saturday morning (Singapore time).

Said the Roma vice-captain: "We have a great defence, the best in the world.

"They (Sweden) have a lot of players who are playing in the top leagues around the world, and they knocked out Holland, who are always up there.

"It's difficult, but we're Italy and we don't fear anyone... We have to go to the World Cup."

It is a sentiment shared by Inter Milan midfielder Roberto Gagliardini, who said: "If we play as Italy, I'm sure we'll go to the World Cup."

Confidence seems to be coursing through the Italy camp with coach Gian Piero Ventura saying he is already thinking about who the Azzurri could face at Russia 2018.

He said: "I never considered the possibility of missing the World Cup. We're all convinced that we will make it...

"I am not thinking about whether we will play in the World Cup or not.

"I am already thinking about the group stage as well as the friendlies we have to play.

"I think about Russia of course, but first of all I am focused on Sweden."

Perhaps Ventura's confidence is down to the fact that he has three red-hot strikers in Ciro Immobile, Simone Zaza and Andrea Belotti.

Calling the Sweden tie "the most important of my career", Serie A top scorer Immobile has racked up 18 goals in just 15 matches for Lazio this season, and added another six for Italy during the qualifiers.

Behind only Lionel Messi in the La Liga scoring charts, Zaza has nine goals from 12 games for Valencia.

Belotti's numbers might not be as impressive as his fellow strikers, with five goals from 10 matches this term, but the Torino man has four goals in six starts for Italy during the qualifiers.

It is this quality in the Azzurri ranks that former Italy striker and Under-21 coach Pierluigi Casiraghi believes will see them past Sweden.

He told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport: "They're (Sweden) more scrappy, physical, tactically diligent in their 4-4-2, or variants of that. But in matches like this, quality is worth more than organisation...

THREE REASONS

"Three reasons Italy will go to the World Cup? Because they're stronger than Sweden. Because they only really got one game wrong, in Madrid (a 3-0 loss to Spain). Because considering everything, including the draw, they deserve it.

"And because a World Cup without Italy would be too sad."

Four-time winners Italy have missed just two World Cup Finals - the first in 1930 when they chose not to compete and in 1958 when they did not qualify.

But Sweden coach Janne Andersson believes his team can deny Italy their customary World Cup spot.

He said: "We had the toughest qualification group against Holland and France, and we played some really good games.

"If we can play at that level, we can beat any team in the world - including Italy."

While Florenzi might think Italy's defence is the best in the world, Sweden striker John Guidetti thinks his team's rearguard isn't too bad either.

He told Gazzetta dello Sport: "Obviously Italy are favourites, of the four teams we could get, they're the worst but the opposite is true too - they wouldn't have wanted to play us.

"It's also tough to score goals against Sweden... The winner will be whoever makes fewer mistakes." - WIRE SERVICES

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