MX23RW : Wednesday, June 16 17:34:23| >> :600:809288:809288:
Mar 31, 2021 at 7.45pm UK at Vilniaus LFF stadionas
LithuaniaLithuania
0-2
ItalyItaly

Simkus (27'), Vaitkunas (77'), Kazlauskas (90+4')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Sensi (48'), Immobile (90+4' pen.)
Pellegrini (14'), Pessina (32'), Locatelli (71')

Preview: Lithuania vs. Italy - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Wednesday's World Cup Qualifying - Europe clash between Lithuania and Italy, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Aiming to seal maximum points from their opening three qualifiers for Qatar 2022, Italy travel to Vilnius on Wednesday to meet Lithuania.

While the hosts narrowly lost their opening match in Switzerland on Sunday, Roberto Mancini's ruthlessly efficient outfit brushed aside Bulgaria to make it two wins from two in Group C so far.


Match preview

Italy coach Roberto Mancini reacts on March 25, 2021© Reuters

Having gone unbeaten in 24 internationals since head coach Roberto Mancini took charge - including 19 wins - Italy have continued to impress in the early stages of qualification for the World Cup, after humiliatingly failing to reach Russia last time around.

Now closing in on the Azzurri's all-time record of 30 games without defeat - set by legendary tactician Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s - former Manchester City manager Mancini could equal 2006 World Cup-winner Marcelo Lippi's best streak as boss by avoiding defeat in Lithuania this week. In all, their remarkable run now covers a period of more than two and a half years - approaching 1,000 days.

Though several young attacking talents have emerged in Serie A during recent times, Italy's formidable form has been primarily based on a resilient rearguard. During Mancini's spell in the dugout, the national side have kept 17 clean sheets - with only three conceded in their past 14 matches.

The latest shutout came in Sofia last Sunday, as Italy overcame Bulgaria 2-0 thanks to goals at the end of both halves, from Andrea Belotti - a penalty he had controversially won himself - and substitute Manuel Locatelli, who killed the game with a wonderful curled strike late on.

Previously, they had beaten Northern Ireland by the same scoreline, so - in a group also featuring neighbours Switzerland - the Azzurri are expected to dominate the section and secure progress to Qatar; finally easing the pain of missing out in 2018.

Late last year, Mancini's men sealed a place in the semi-finals of the Nations League, topping a group also including the Netherlands and Poland to get there, plus they also have an outside shot at success in the Euros. Several stars-in-the-making - such as Locatelli, winger Federico Chiesa and imposing goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma - therefore have much to anticipate in the coming months.

Lithuania head coach Valdas Urbonas pictured on November 15, 2020© Reuters

Lithuania have never qualified for the finals of a major tournament, recording just one win during qualification for the last World Cup in neighbouring Russia - an indication of their unenviable task in progressing from this competitive group.

They entered the campaign in unpromising fashion, with a 4-0 friendly loss to Kosovo last week seeing them concede three times during a disappointing second half display.

Having prepared so shakily for the challenge of opening group opponents Switzerland, the world's 129th-ranked side went a goal behind in St. Gallen after just two minutes - with Liverpool forward Xherdan Shaqiri scoring the only goal of the game, after kickoff was bizarrely delayed for 20 minutes by a breach of goalpost-height restrictions.

The team coached by Valdas Urbonas may only have the incentive of battling Bulgaria to avoid the wooden spoon in this five team group, as recent results have highlighted their paucity of effective options in attack, plus a propensity to sit deep and let others dictate the game.

Lithuania World Cup Qualifying - Europe form:
  • L

Lithuania form (all competitions):
  • D
  • D
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • L

Italy World Cup Qualifying - Europe form:
  • W
  • W

Italy form (all competitions):
  • D
  • D
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W


Team News

Italy's Domenico Berardi celebrates scoring against Northern Ireland on March 25, 2021© Reuters

Freiburg forward Vincenzo Grifo will not travel to Lithuania due to the tightened COVID-19 restrictions in Germany, as like many others around Europe, he has been recalled as there are now stricter protocols for people arriving there from certain countries. If he had stayed in the camp, adhering to the rules would have prevented Grifo being available for his club next weekend.

Just ahead of the Bulgaria game, Sassuolo strikers Francesco Caputo and Domenico Berardi - plus veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini - left the Italy camp due to injury, while both Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi travelled back to Paris this week - further diminishing Roberto Mancini's initial 38-man squad.

With Roma's Bryan Cristante, Moise Kean of PSG and Chelsea midfielder Jorginho previously pulling out - and the need to introduce fresh legs for a third fixture in the space of a week - Mancini may bring in some of those who have yet to feature during this international period.

Napoli full-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo appeared from the bench on Sunday and will replace Alessandro Florenzi in the back four, with Rafael Toloi a contender to make his debut in the centre, where Inter's Alessandro Bastoni is also pressing for a place.

Having started the previous two games, Di Lorenzo's club captain Lorenzo Insigne is likely to be rested, with Stephan El Shaarawy and Federico Bernardeschi potential replacements on the flank. Despite his successful spot kick in Sofia, striker Andrea Belotti may again trade places with Ciro Immobile, who has been involved in seven goals from his last seven starts in an Azzurri shirt.

Although they were characteristically without the ball for long periods against the potentially dangerous Swiss, coach Valdas Urbonas was impressed by Lithuania's determined refusal to fold and could keep a relatively unchanged XI, despite the quick turnaround.

Forward Fedor Cernych should once more captain the team from his sole striker's spot in a 4-1-4-1 setup. The Moscow-born striker has netted nine times in 61 appearances for his national team and is expected to be supported by Arvydas Novikovas from out wide.

Meanwhile, Israel-based defensive midfielder Domantas Simkus is set to screen an overburdened defensive unit for the hosts, which includes former Hearts full-back Saulius Mikoliunas.

Lithuania possible starting lineup:
Svedkauskas; Mikoliunas, Beneta, Gaspuitis, Vaitkunas; Simkus; Slivka, Dapkus, Lasickas, Novikovas; Cernych

Italy possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Emerson, Bastoni, Toloi, Di Lorenzo; Sensi, Locatelli, Pellegrini; El Shaarawy, Immobile, Chiesa


SM words green background

We say: Lithuania 0-2 Italy

Anything short of a third straight regulation victory for Italy would be a major surprise on Wednesday, as whichever combination of talent they choose to field has more than enough guile to unlock ultra-defensive opposition.

With a superb record in recent months, combined with their cold determination to put right the wrongs of the past World Cup qualifying campaign, the Azzurri can establish a hold on Group C's top spot that they may never relinquish.



Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting over 2.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Over 2.5:data


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Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough pictured on September 7, 2020
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