Date: September 9, 2014
Venue: Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo, Norway
Kick-off time: 19:45 hours BST
Italy will kick-off their Euro qualification campaign against a defence minded Norway side. Placed alongside Croatia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Malta, both the sides have a strong claim to qualify from the group.
For Norway, the first game of qualification at home will be a huge advantage against a far lesser cohesive Italian unit.
Norway’s form: D-L-D-D-L
Against England, in the last international friendly, Norway were a bit better than what the stats suggest. The only two shots that England could muster on target were two; such was the defensive discipline of the Norwegian side.
On their day, they can make anybody sweat for a win and will be relishing their chances against Antonio Conte’s Italy side who still have not gotten used to the new setup.
Italy’s form: D-W-L-L-W
Italy’s World Cup exit was rather shocking considering their first group game against England. A solid midfield and defence were useless when they did not click. With the new manager at the helm, Italy looked sharp against Netherlands in the previous friendly encounter. Ciro Immobile and Daniele de Rossi were on target as Italy won against the Dutch.
The biggest issue now facing Conte is the striker conundrum after Mario Balotelli was not picked up for the Netherland friendly. Mattia Destro and Immobile are two options which are worth trying out.
Norway: Ruben Jenssen
The Kaiserlautern midfielder was a constant presence in the Norway midfield harrying the England midfield pivot of Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson. Against Italy, he will be facing better midfielders in de Rossi and Marco Verrati.
Italy: Marco Verrati
If there is one player who can fill in Andrea Pirlo’s shoes it is Marco Verrati. The diminutive midfielder has all the tools required to be the next Pirlo. His composure on the ball and distribution is almost Pirlo-esque. With Pirlo out injured, this might be his chance to grab that spot.
Italy may not have had the best of World Cup campaigns but they should be heavy favourite to win this, with bet365 offering 1.8 for their win. A typically staunch Italian defence means there may not be too many goals – something that is indicated by bet365’s offer of 1.61 for less than 2.5 goals to be scored in the game and that is the pick for me.