Ahead of a do-or-die encounter with Ukraine in their final Euro 2024 qualifier, Italy will look to move into the top two of Group C when North Macedonia visit Stadio Olimpico on Friday.
A huge November international break beckons for Luciano Spalletti and Italy as they attempt to qualify for Euro 2024 when they take on North Macedonia at Stadio Olimpico this week.
The Azzurri are the defending European champions. But they face a tricky task booking their place in next year’s tournament. Sitting three points off the automatic places, they need a win in Friday’s clash before facing Ukraine in a direct shootout for qualification in their final fixture of the Euro 2024 qualification campaign.
The hosts were defeated 3-1 by England in their most recent fixture in Group C, despite taking an early lead through Gianluca Scamacca. However, that was their first defeat in five qualifying matches, having picked up three wins in that stretch.
While Italy have had their fair share of problems lately, one thing that will give them a huge boost ahead of Friday’s encounter is their solid record in front of their fans, having won four of their last five home matches in all competitions. North Macedonia, meanwhile, have somehow kept themselves in contention for a qualification spot. But a loss here will see them exit the competition.
They have recorded two wins, one draw, and three losses in their six matches, leaving them on seven points with two games left to play. However, even if Malta win both of their matches, their poor goal difference almost makes it impossible for them to qualify.
The away side head into Friday’s clash off the back of a 3-1 victory over Armenia in a friendly in October. It was a return to winning ways for Blagoja Milevski’s men, who were beaten 2-0 by Ukraine in their previous qualifying fixture.
Team News & Tactics
— Italy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@Azzurri_En) November 15, 2023
Luciano Spalletti initially announced a 29-man squad for Italy’s upcoming qualifiers. But multiple players have already withdrawn due to injuries. Davide Calabria, Alex Meret, Rafael Toloi, and Manuel Locatelli are among those who won’t feature due to various injury problems.
There are also doubts surrounding the fitness of Moise Kean, Bryan Cristante, and Andrea Cambiaso, while Giovanni Di Lorenzo is suspended, and Sandro Tonali serves a global ban. An injury meant Spalletti opted against calling up Destiny Udogie, but Federico Chiesa is available for the Azzurri.
Jorginho has returned to the squad and is expected to start against North Macedonia, with Nicolo Barella and Davide Frattesi on either side of him. Meanwhile, Spalletti is expected to field Chiesa and Domenico Berardi on either side of Gianluca Scamacca in attack.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Darmian, Acerbi, Bastoni, Dimarco; Barella, Jorginho, Frattesi; Berardi, Scamacca, Chiesa
There are no major injury concerns for the visitors. However, captain Stefan Ristovski has not been called up to the squad since June owing to a rift with head coach Blagoja Milevski, who has once again omitted him from the ranks this time around.
Milevski typically seems to favour a hybrid 3-4-2-1, which can effortlessly turn into a 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, if necessary. There is no looking past Stole Dimitrievski in goal, while the three-man defensive unit comprising Jovan Manev, Visar Musliu, and Nikola Serafimov in front of him also picks itself up.
As for the attack, this is where North Macedonia lacks some firepower but can still cause some damage. Elif Elmas is one of the leading stars in the North Macedonia attack, and he will face off against former coach Luciano Spalletti on Friday night.
Italy are very familiar with striker Aleksandar Trajkovski, who scored the decisive goal, which ensured Italy did not qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Trajkovski should start in the frontline in Rome, with Enis Bardhi and Ezgjan Alioski also offering support in attack.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Dimitrievski; Manev, Musliu, Serafimov; Ashkovski, Ademi, Atanasov, Alioski; Bardhi, Elmas; Trajkovski
- The last time these two teams faced each other in a make-or-break qualification situation, North Macedonia beat Italy 1-0 in stoppage time during the 2022 FIFA World Cup playoff semi-final playoff last March.
- Italy have netted two or more goals in three of their last five home matches.
- Italy have only kept one clean sheet in their last six games.
- Seven of Italy’s last ten games have ended with over 2.5 goals scored.
- North Macedonia are averaging above two goals conceded per match in their qualification campaign.
Player to Watch
Gianluca Scamacca could be worth keeping an eye on, having looked sharp for Atalanta in recent weeks. The Italian international striker faced something of a crossroads during the summer transfer window.
He had only joined West Ham United the previous summer. He arrived in East London on a big-money move with significant expectations. But the 24-year-old did not manage to make the impact that had been hoped for.
However, he is finding his form at the Gewiss Arena under Gian Piero Gasperini, having produced five goals and an assist in nine Serie A games so far this season. His form for Atalanta is making him the new favourite to lead the line for Italy now that Ciro Immobile is struggling, and he will surely be looking to make that position his own with a goal-scoring performance here.
Italy 2-0 North Macedonia
Italy have been installed as overwhelming favourites. But a must-win qualifier at home to North Macedonia will send shivers down the spine of the Italian fanbase, having lost in the playoff semi-final for qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup last March.
North Macedonia, who often find things difficult on their travels, will know how to take Italy on, so it might be a fascinating match on Friday evening. But the Azzurri, led by Luciano Spalletti, will be optimistic of cruising past the Macedonians with a little more finesse upfront this time around. A win in this one should set up a meeting with Ukraine on Monday.