Italy’s qualification for Euro 2024 remains firmly on a knife edge as they host North Macedonia on Friday.
The defending European champions are assured of at least a playoff spot thanks to their Nations League results, but they currently sit outside the top two spots in Group C, which would get them in automatically. A win here would, however, push them above Ukraine and into an automatic qualifying place, which would provide far more comfort than the current standing.
North Macedonia proved a difficult challenge back in September, with Italy restricted to just three shots on target despite enjoying 72 percent possession. They were held to a draw after an 81st minute equalizer from Trabzonspor striker Enis Bardhi which shared the points and put more pressure on Italy to pick up subsequent results.
The Sporting News previews the match and looks at some predictions and betting tips here.
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While this Italy squad is nowhere near their historic heights from a talent perspective, they have begun to figure things out under Luciano Spalletti, who is a master at getting the most out of a group of players, as he showed at Napoli last season.
This North Macedonia team is also adept at playing as a unit, but they have been well beaten on a few occasions by better sides, including a 7-0 defeat to England and 2-0 defeat to Ukraine in this Euro qualifying group, both coming on the road. Italy could benefit from home advantage.
Sassuolo forward Domenico Berardi has been a machine in front of goal this season in Serie A, sitting seventh in the Italian top flight in total shots (30) and putting half of them (15) on target. It earned him a call-up to Italy back in October, and he delivered with two goals in a 4-0 win over Malta.
He’s familiar with this North Macedonia side, having started in the 1-0 upset defeat last time they faced off on Italian soil, firing off an enormous eight shots with two of them on frame. He shouldn’t need that many efforts this time around to find the target, given his efficiency in domestic action this year.
While they’ve struggled overall on the road, this North Macedonia side has been pesky against Italy in the recent past, securing three straight results against the Italians, all of the low scoring variety.
Italy, meanwhile, have been wasteful in front of goal in recent matches against opponents of at least decent quality. They pummeled Ukraine for 22 shots but put only five on frame, while letting loose 15 of them against England put only managing four on target and one in the net.
If they continue this style of play, North Macedonia should be able to keep a lid on the game and keep it from getting out of control, even if they can’t ultimately snatch points from the match.
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