Italy can take another important step toward World Cup qualification when they take on Denmark in Milan’s San Siro on Tuesday. After their surprising, yet superb run to the final of Euro 2012, Cesare Prandelli’s side began their campaign for Brazil 2014 with a less than assured 2-2 draw in Bulgaria.
That indifferent form continued with unconvincing victories over both Malta and Armenia. Prandelli will be looking for his side to approach their form for the summer against what is, on paper, their toughest opponents to date.
Italy’s task is not helped by the fact that legendary goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon has been ruled out with an abductor muscle injury suffered in Armenia. The Juventus veteran will be replaced by Napoli’s Morgan De Sanctis, who has won five caps since making his debut back in 2005.
On a more positive note for Italy is the news that Mario Balotelli looks set to have recovered from illness to make his first appearance for the Azzurri since Euro 2012. The Manchester City forward is expected to start up front alongside Roma’s Pablo Osvaldo, who has scored three goals in his past two international outings.
While Italy have been performing below expectations but picking up results, Denmark have just two points to show from their two qualifying matches to date. While it is still early, defeat in Milan would leave Morten Olsen’s side in an extremely precarious position to even make the playoffs.
Olsen at least has a fully-fit squad to choose from going into the crucial fixture. One man sure to be in the lineup who should have plenty of motivation is Nicklas Bendtner. The striker has appeared for just 10 minutes since joining Juventus on-loan from Arsenal in August. He continued his impressive record at international level, though with a goal in the 1-1 draw in Bulgaria on Friday.
G: De Sanctis
D: Maggio, Barzagli, Bonucci, Criscito
M: Marchisio, Pirlo, De Rossi
F: Balotelli, Osvaldo
D: Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger, Mtiliga
M: Kvist, Kristensen
Rommendahl, Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli
Prediction: It is a meeting of two sides still looking to kick-start their qualification campaigns. Denmark will need to show the same threat on the break that they demonstrated to good effect during Euro 2012. However, Italy should be solid at home and control the game through their strong midfield trio.
Even if they don’t quite hit the heights of which they’re capable, Italy are likely to do enough to get the all-important three points against a struggling Denmark.
Italy 2-1 Denmark
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier kicks-off from Milan at 2.45 p.m. ET. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.