Italy face Sweden hurdle to World Cup hopes

Berlin, Italy will have to overcome Sweden if they are to reach football’s World Cup finals in Russia next year.

The four-time world champions play the first leg in Sweden before a return leg on home soil, in the draw for the European qualifying play-offs made Tuesday in Zurich.

Northern Ireland meet Switzerland, Croatia face Greece, and Denmark are up against Ireland.

The first legs will be played between November 9 and 11, and the return legs between November 12 and 14.

Italy have taken part in 18 of the 20 World Cups and have qualified for every finals since 1958, last winning the title in Germany in 2006.

The Azzurri finished second behind Spain in their qualifying group, with their only defeat in 10 matches coming against the Spanish.

Sweden are arguably the toughest of the unseeded opponents Italy could have met after finishing runners-up to France but ahead of the Netherlands.

In initial reaction, Sweden coach Janne Andersson said: “It’s two tough games but it would have been the same with other countries. I’m happy we know now. Now we can start work.

“I haven’t thought so much about Italy. I haven’t put too much energy in to it. Their history is good, they’ve got good experience. We will go for it.”

The four play-off winners will join hosts Russia, and 22 other nations who have so far booked their places: Germany, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, England, Nigeria, Poland, Egypt, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Panama.

Three more African places are to be filled, with Tunisia, DR Congo, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa in contention.

In intercontinental play-offs, Australia play Honduras across two legs on November 10 and 15, while New Zealand face off against Peru on November 11 and 15.

Source: Ghana News Agency