Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Tuesday 13th October, 2015, 19:45 GMT
Italy host Norway in the final European qualifier tomorrow having already secured their place in next summer’s finals in France. A win would assure them of top spot in Group H, a scenario which seemed unlikely at the beginning of this year. Antonio Conte’s men were the tenth side to secure qualification following their comprehensive 3-1 win over Azerbaijan on Saturday.
Norway still have a chance to confirm direct qualification from this group as they sit on second place but with only two points separating them from Croatia who have an easier fixture against Malta, Per-Mathias Hogmoa s side have to play for the win in Rome. A draw for Norway and a Croatia win would mean playoffs for the Norwegians due to the head-to-head record between the two sides.
Team news and tactics
After two consecutive dissapointments in World Cup, Italy no longer instill fear like they used to do previously. They have not lost in 38 qualifying games at home, a run which stretches back to September 1999. A new-look 4-2-4 formation looked impressive against Azerbaijan. But with so many injuries to key players like Verratti, Conte might have to field a 3-5-2 module. The Italians have not lost in 15 competitive outings in the capital and Antonio Conte will be eager to make the most of this opportunity to become a seeded team in the group stages of the Euros.
Conte has often changed his attacking options throughout the campaign and might experiment again since qualification is assured now. Sebastian Giovinco, who came on as a substitute and made a positive impact at Baku, will most likely get another chance to impress alongside Graziano Pelle. Italy have not played eye catching football but have done what was expected of them. A confident display in front of the home fans will mark a perfect end to the qualifying campaign for them.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2):Buffon(Gk); Darmian, Ranocchia, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; Bertolacci, Montolivo, Florenzi; Eder, Pelle.
Norway face an uphill battle on Tuesday as Italy have not lost a competitive home match this century. Going into a must-win game manager Per-Mathias Hogmo will field his strongest side and will look to carry on the momentum gained from Saturday’s win over Malta.
However, Norway have a major injury concern ahead of this pivotal game. Captain Per Ciljan Skjelbred was substituted in the second half on Saturday after twisting his ankle and is a big doubt for the game in Rome. He will be assessed before the start of the game to see whether he is fit enough to start. Skjelbred was replaced by teenage sensation Martin Odegaard for the rest of the match against Malta. However, it will be a big gamble to count on the 16-year-old in this must-win encounter and that too against a tough side like Italy. Alexander Soderlund finally found the back of the net for the first time this campaign for Norway and he should keep his place ahead of Joshua King. Despite their second position in the group, Norway have found goals hard to come by and will be hoping Soderlund continues his goalscoring form.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1):Nyland(Gk); Hovland, Elabdellaoui, Aleesami, Forren; Tettey, Johansen; Soederlund, Henriksen, Skjelbred; Berget
Norway have kept a clean sheet in their last 4 matches in the European Championship (including qualifiers).
Italy have won their last 3 matches in the European Championship (including qualifiers).
Italy have won their last 3 home matches against Norway in all competitions.
Players to Watch Out For
Graziano Pelle (Italy)
Conte has trusted the Southampton man in attack more than anyone else. He has started in six European qualifiers, scoring twice. But it is his overall contribution that makes him so vital in Italy’s tactical system. His link-up play with the wingers and support striker is an essential part of Conte’s tactics and Pelle has exceeded all expectations so far. His big frame and technically impressive feet helps to create many openings for others. Pelle will look to finish the qualifying campaign on a high note with a goal but even if he does not score expect him to set up chances for his teammates.
Alexander Tettey (Norway)
Skjelbred’s potential absence means other midfielders need to step up for Norway in this vital game. It will be essential to win the midfield battle and not let the Italians dictate the tempo of the game. Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey will be the man given the duty to break up play in the middle of the park. The combative midfielder has eight international caps to his name and he needs to produce a stubborn, dedicated display in this must-win encounter.
Italy 1a 1 Norway
Italy have already secured a place at next summer’s European Championship, but will want to progress as group winners. Norway’s hopes of automatic qualification is in their hands. They sit two points above third place Croatia, but need to better their rival’s result due to their inferior goal difference. On home soil, Italy have the advantage but injuries to key players mean they are understrength in midfield. Norway will come into this game with a desire to win and might get a point in this one.
Blast From the Past
Italy have the edge in terms of the two nationsa competitive record with four wins and one draw from the last five meetings. The most recent contest ended in a 2-0 win for the Azzurri in September 2014 in what was Antonio Contea s first match in charge of the national team.