Azerbaijan v Italy – Preview: Azzurri looking to seal qualification
Italy play away against Azerbaijan on Saturday in their Euro 2016 Group H qualifier, knowing a win would book their place at the Euros next year in France.
The Azzurri are on top of their group with 18 points after eight games while Azerbaijan are second-last on six points. Antonio Conte’s team won their last qualifier 1-0 against Bulgaria while Robert Prosinecki’s side drew 2-2 with Malta.
Italy won their previous encounter with Azerbaijan 2-1 at the Stadio Renzo Barbera in Palermo last year with Giorgio Chiellini contributing to all three goals. The Juventus defender scored both of the Azzurri goals as well as an own goal.
The Italians have never lost a match against the Azerbaijanis. In addition to the 2-1 win from October 2014, the Azzurri won 2-0 in Baku and 4-0 in Reggio Calabria in the Euro 2004 Qualifiers. To make things harder for Azerbaijan, Italy are unbeaten in 48 international qualifiers since losing 3-1 to France in 2006.
Azerbaijan had lost their first four Euro 2016 qualifiers but new coach Prosinecki has turned things around. Since the Croatian legend has taken over, the Milli are unbeaten having won a match and grabbed three draws.
Prosinecki, on a personal level, has a good record against Italy. He played in two draws for the former Yugoslavia and he also featured in Croatia’s 2-1 win against the Azzurri in a Euro 96 qualifier. He was also an unused substitute when the Vatreni beat the Azzurri 2-1 at the 2002 World Cup.
Sassuolo winger Domenico Berardi was expected to make his Italy debut but he has had to pull out with a muscular injury and Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne has left the Azzurri squad with a knee problem. Daniele De Rossi is suspended after he received a red card against Bulgaria.
Prosinecki has a full strength side to choose from but Dimitrij Nazarov is one booking away from a suspension.
Form Guide: Azerbaijan (L-W-L-D-D-D) Italy (D-D-D-L-W-W)
Expected Starting XI
Azerbaijan: Aghayev; Dashdemirov, Guseynov, Mirzabekov, Sadygov; Amirguliyev, Garayev, Ismayilov, Nazarov, Mammadov; Qurbanov
Italy: Buffon: Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; Florenzi, Pirlo, Parolo; Candreva, Pelle, El Shaarawy