Vito Doria Date: 10th November 2017 at 3:24pm
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Simone Zaza will make his return to the Italy squad which will be facing Sweden in the decisive World Cup play-offs after nearly a year out of the Italian national team.

After finishing second to Spain in Group G of the European World Cup qualifiers, the Azzurri will play the Swedes in Stockholm on Friday and the second leg will be in Milan three days later.

Coach Giampiero Ventura has selected the Valencia striker for the first time since the middle of November 2016 and now he has the opportunity to redeem himself after his miss in the Euro 2016 quarter-final penalty shoot-out defeat against Germany.

He was a great source of ridicule after he made that absurd run-up before blasting the ball right over the crossbar and memes aplenty mocking his technique went viral on social media.

Since his moment of ignominy, he has managed to get his career back on track but it has not been easy for the 26-year-old.

A disappointing loan spell at West Ham United in which he failed to score in eight English Premier League games prompted them to shorten his stint with the Hammers and then his parent club Juventus sent him on loan to Spanish side Valencia in January.

His form in the second half of the 2016-17 La Liga campaign in which he scored six goals in 20 league matches was enough to persuade Los Che to acquire him outright from the Bianconeri but hardly anyone would have expected him to have such an impressive start to the 2017-18 season.

Zaza has scored nine goals in 11 Spanish Primera Division matches so far with only the great Lionel Messi scoring more than the Italian striker. This sounds even more remarkable when one considers that he has scored more goals than illustrious forwards such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, and Antoine Griezmann.

Valencia are currently second in La Liga and they have scored just as many goals as Barcelona in the league this season but the Blaugrana are four points ahead of the table. Zaza’s strikes account for 30 per cent of Los Che’s tally and he has formed a lethal partnership with Brazilian-born striker Rodrigo, who has scored seven times.

The 26-year-old will probably be paired with Ciro Immobile because of Andrea Belotti’s lack of fitness and the duo formed Italy’s attack at the start of Antonio Conte’s stint as Azzurri coach so they have some experience playing together.

With both players in form, Ventura should be fortunate to have them in form unlike his predecessor, who eventually had to replace them with Eder and Graziano Pelle.

If the Azzurri coach can ditch the loathed 4-2-4 formation and find the right system as well as midfield balance to help create chances for his strikers, then Immobile and Zaza could bring their club form onto the international stage.

With Italy’s World Cup hopes on the line, this is an opportunity for Zaza to go from laughing stock to unlikely hero.