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

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

A surprise midweek setback for European champions Italy will see them intent on claiming a crucial win in Switzerland on Sunday, as they seek to take a step closer to reaching Qatar 2022.

While the Azzurri were held by Bulgaria in Florence, their Alpine rivals - who they met in the Euros just a few weeks ago - were in friendly action due to an uneven number of teams in World Cup Qualifying Group C.


Match preview

Italy attacker Federico Chiesa pictured on July 6, 2021© Reuters

An encounter with lowly Bulgaria at the atmospheric Stadio Artemio Franchi seemed like the perfect way for Italy to return to competitive action for the first time since their summer success, but events failed to pan out as expected on Thursday, as they rejoined the road to next year's World Cup finals.

A sensational opening goal from Federico Chiesa - who characteristically slalomed through the visitors' defence before exchanging a one-two and firing home with typical aplomb - was cancelled out later in the first half, with a neat left-footed finish from Atanas Iliev earning Bulgaria an unlikely 1-1 draw in the Tuscan capital.

Having now blotted their previously perfect start to the qualification process, Roberto Mancini's men face perhaps their most testing task of the group, as they head to Basel for a crunch clash with Switzerland.

Ahead of the game, they can boast a remarkable 35-game unbeaten streak - which equals the European record run set by Spain - including a 3-0 victory over the Swiss at Stadio Olimpico in early June, thanks to Manuel Locatelli's double strike.

Nonetheless, this weekend's opponents remain their only credible rivals for the sole automatic qualification spot, as they trail the Azzurri by four points but have two games in hand.

Having previously overcome Bulgaria, Northern Ireland and Lithuania by 2-0 scorelines, Italy have put themselves in pole position in Group C, and their second continental title this summer sees them as one of the favourites to claim the biggest prize in Qatar next year.

However, the scars are still raw from La Nazionale's abject failure to reach Russia three years ago, after which Mancini radically overhauled all aspects of the Italian approach to spectacular effect. So now they must quickly forget their midweek frustration and put in a decisive performance on Sunday.

Switzerland's Breel Embolo celebrates after Mario Gavranovic scored a goal that was later disallowed by VAR for offside on June 12, 2021© Reuters

In their first outing since being knocked out of Euro 2020 by Spain - by the tortuous method of a penalty shootout - Switzerland showed little signs of a hangover, as they ended Greece's 14-game unbeaten streak with a 2-1 friendly win in midweek.

Two stars of a campaign which saw the Nati bounce back from their heavy defeat to the Italians with a stunning defeat of world champions France in the last 16 - Ruben Vargas and Steven Zuber - were on the scoresheet on Wednesday, as Murat Yakin got his reign as manager under way.

Having taken over from the inimitable Vladimir Petkovic, who enjoyed success and acclaim throughout much of his spell in charge of the Swiss side, former Basel boss Yakin now leads his nation into crucial qualifiers with the Azzurri and then Northern Ireland at Windsor Park. They so far have maximum points from fixtures with Bulgaria and Lithuania, but have some catching up to do.

Reaching the quarter-final stage of the Euros for the first time ever will surely have galvanised a talented group of players - drawn mostly from the Bundesliga, but also with a smattering of members across other top leagues in Europe - ahead of their return to competitive action.

In fact, penalties aside, Switzerland have lost just once in their last 14 matches, which indicates their consistency and confirms a reputation as one of the continent's current top teams. However, the identity of their conquerors on that single occasion will surely give Yakin and company cause for consternation - particularly with their captain and star player both sidelined on Sunday.

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

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

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

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



Team News

Switzerland's Granit Xhaka pictured in October 2020© Reuters

In addition to the injured Xherdan Shaqiri, Swiss skipper Granit Xhaka missed his team's friendly fixture with Greece on Wednesday after testing positive for COVID-19 and is currently isolating.

The Arsenal midfielder was diagnosed with symptoms on the morning of the game and was immediately quarantined, so in his absence, Djibril Sow or Michel Aebischer could join Remo Freuler and Denis Zakaria in a three-man central midfield against Italy.

New coach Murat Yakin opted for a 3-5-2 setup in his first outing as national boss, but also gave some fresh faces a run-out - with Cedric Zesiger making his debut in defence. Though he may retain the formation, regulars such as first-choice goalkeeper Yann Sommer, Nico Elvedi and Manuel Akanji are set to return to the starting XI, after a game spent on the bench.

Up front, Haris Seferovic should lead the line, with Breel Embolo still injured, while Ruben Vargas and Renato Steffen vie to start in support.

Italy, meanwhile, may make some changes due to a mixed showing in midweek and the fact that they must complete three competitive matches in the space of a week.

Milan defender Alessandro Florenzi was partly at fault for Bulgaria's goal, and he has strong competition for his place from Rafael Toloi - who replaced him in the second half on Thursday - plus his new club captain Davide Calabria and Napoli's Giovanni Di Lorenzo.

The Azzurri's Euros-winning midfield is likely to remain unchanged, but Francesco Acerbi may drop out of the back four for old warhorse Giorgio Chiellini, whose experience in such high-profile away trips could be invaluable.

In attack, Sassuolo forwards Domenico Berardi and Giacomo Raspadori are pushing for a place, while Ciro Immobile should be preferred by Roberto Mancini at centre-forward after Andrea Belotti previously withdrew from the squad due to an injury.

Switzerland possible starting lineup:
Sommer; Widmer, Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez; Steffen, Frei, Aebischer, Sow, Zuber; Seferovic

Italy possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Chiellini, Bonucci, Emerson; Locatelli, Jorginho, Barella; Insigne, Immobile, Berardi


SM words green background

We say: Switzerland 1-1 Italy

Despite lacking integral players in the middle of the pitch, Switzerland can follow Bulgaria's path by frustrating the European champions on Sunday night - through grit and some resolute performances from an experienced back line.

Italy are in a strong position in Group C already, so a second successive draw will be far from disastrous - particularly as it would keep their key rivals adrift in the table; securing the outright European record for games undefeated in the process.



Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting under 3.5 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.Under 3.5:data


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How you voted: Switzerlvs vs Italy

Switzerland
14.3%
Draw
26.2%
Italy
59.5%
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Switzerland players pose for a team group photo before the match on June 3, 2021
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Switzerland Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player
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