Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sweden Set for Showdown with Italy

Sweden enters the World Cup Qualifying playoffs with upset aspirations against Italy but it will be easier said then done.

Sweden's downfall came during the 2010 World Cup Qualifying when they only ousted up five wins. Since then, they have been fighting for respectability in a decade that has had Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the spotlight way too often.

Since his retirement, the Scandinavia nation has been able to hold serve. They didn't look out of place in a tricky Group A that produced a tie and win one the Netherlands and later a win over France. Sweden placed second in the group and advanced the playoff where they got paired with Italy.

Despite Italy's well known success, Sweden shouldn't be massive underdogs. They will likely need at least a win at home Friday that would set up a intense 90 minutes Monday night in Italy.

Away goals will also be crucial as that is the tie-breaker if the teams are tied after 180 minutes.

The scary thing is, Sweden hasn't fared well in their new home against good teams. They have allowed three against Portugal, five against Germany and four more against Austria two years ago. They also allowed an away goal against Denmark in their playoff for the Euro's.

I will be surprised if Sweden can hold a clean sheet Friday. They have played 15 competitive games at Friends Arena and only have 6 clean sheet wins but all of them have been against inferior teams with the strongest team being Bulgaria.

This team has already reached expectations, the rest is gravy. That being said it would be fun to knock off Italy. If Sweden fail, they will be in there longest World Cup drought in their history. However, UEFA has had a couple berths taken away the last few quadrennial while the depth of the confederation has gotten stronger.

Italy hasn't lost more than one Qualifying game in a World Cup cycle 1984. The two legged series is there's to lose.

I predict 1-1 in the first leg and 2-0 Italy in the reverse fixture on Monday sending Italy through to Russia 2018.

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