On Friday night, Sweden and Italy go head-to-head in the first leg of World Cup play-offs.
Both of these countries were slightly unfortunate to end up in tough groups in qualifying, as Sweden were paired with France, while Italy had the misfortune of facing fellow European heavyweights Spain.
Defeats France, Bulgaria and the Netherlands ended the home side’s chances of topping their group, with France securing top spot in relatively easy fashion in the end.
However, Janne Andersson’s side produced some very good displays in qualifying and will not be easy opponents for the wily Azzurri. One result that stands out from qualifying was a 2-1 home win over France.
The win may not come as much of a surprise, as Sweden has a good recent home record. The Scandinavian side have won their last four games on home soil. They have also scored two or more goals in each of those wins.
The last opposition team to win in Sweden were Ivory Coast back in January in an international friendly.
Italy will be highly disappointed to have not made the World Cup via the automatic spot. However, Spain proved too strong for the Azzurri in the decisive game of the group, as La Roja beat Giampiero Ventura’s side 3-0 in Madrid.
However, the defeat against the former World champions was Italy’s only loss in their last 37 World Cup qualifiers. The visitor’s away record is also strong, as they have won four of their last five qualifiers away from home.
Italy have also been relatively prolific in World Cup qualifiers on their travels. The Azzurri have scored two or more goals in ten of their last 13 away games.
Italy will head into this tie as favourites to make it to Russia for next year’s World Cup. However, Sweden are unlikely to make it easy for the visitors in the Friends Arena. This game could very well end up honours even.