EUROPE: World Cup – Qualification
Time: 8:45 PM
Venue: Windsor Park (Belfast)
Whilst Northern Ireland (NI) won’t be participating at the World Cup next year, they could potentially play a big role in denying European Championship holders Italy a spot there. Whilst all the talk surrounds who finishes top between the Italians and Switzerland in Group C, motivation for Ian Barraclough’s side comes in aiming for back-to-back wins for the second time in 2021.
Going unbeaten in three home World Cup Qualification (WCQ) games (W1, D2), including to Switzerland, may not be reason to celebrate too much, but NI last went four without defeat at Windsor Park in 2016. They’ve also managed to achieve three clean sheets in those three, but the fact they’ve not managed to even score versus Italy in six meetings since 1961, probably highlights the task at hand (D1, L5).
Missing a last-minute penalty in the 1-1 draw with Switzerland denied Italy the chance to have a much firmer stranglehold on top spot in this WCQ group. Roberto Mancini’s men now approach this final clash sitting above Switzerland only by a narrow two-goal advantage. Mancini might be slightly concerned about their form since their Euro 2020 triumph over England last summer (W2, D3, L1), but a win by a decent margin should ensure they book that automatic place for Qatar.
Although drawing their last away game against Switzerland wasn’t terrible, it ended a seven-match winning streak away from home in major tournament qualification encounters. It also marked their first major tournament qualification away draw since June 2015, when facing Croatia. Still, with their recent world record 37-game unbeaten run only recently ending, Italy should be confident here.
Players to watch: Six of the last seven international goals recorded by NI’s Josh Magennis were either the first or last in the game. For Italy, they have won all ten international contests in which striker Andrea Belotti has scored.
- Northern Ireland’s form in last 5 matches: WLLDW.
- Italy’s form in last 5 matches: DWLWD.
PREDICTION: Away Win