ADAM GOODWIN (@agjournalism) searches for the best value betting opportunities from Friday night's World Cup 2018 qualifying play-off between Sweden and Italy.
Sweden v Italy | Friday 10th November 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Out of all the play-off games, this is arguably the best.
Sweden eliminated Holland from Group A, and were only ousted from top spot by the best France squad in generations. Striker Marcus Berg was top scorer in the group and the Swedes impressed plenty during qualification.
Italy were head-to-head with Spain, but a 3-0 defeat to La Roja meant the Italians had to settle for a play-off spot.
The first leg will be played in Solna in Sweden, and it’s set to be a thrilling encounter.
Sweden were the top scorers in their World Cup qualification group – scoring 26 goals in 10 games – more than a France side containing the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann. They also had 10 different goalscorers, showing that they’re certainly not a one-man team.
Sweden boss Janne Andersson was appointed as national team manager after his IFK Norrkoping side surprised everyone by winning the Swedish Premier League in 2015, and he’ll be looking to cause another upset in this play-off game.
As Sweden look to qualify for their first World Cup since 2006, Andersson has said that his side “can beat any team in the world – including Italy.”
Many people thought that Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s international retirement last year would severely affect the Swedish national team, but seem to be playing much better football without the Manchester United striker.
But in an interview with Sky Sports earlier this week, he said: “When I am playing, the quality level raises, but it drops in my absence.” Never short of confidence, is he?
Berg was the top scorer in Group A, and the Al Ain striker will look to continue his great goalscoring form in Solna on Friday. The former Hamburg, PSV and Panathinaikos striker is “renowned for his heading ability, first touches, and being able to shoot and pass with both his right and left foot.” He looks to be filling the hole left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic pretty well…
When Italy and Spain were drawn in the same qualification group, it was hard to imagine one of the European giants entering the play-off stages of this competition. In the end, it was Italy who finished second best to the Spaniards and they’ll be hoping to build on their decent qualification campaign with a win on Sunday.
This could be the end of Gianluigi Buffon’s international career if Italy fail to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, and that’s undoubtedly something that will spur on, not just Buffon, but the whole team.
The legendary ‘keeper has played 173 times for his country and if the Azzurri are to qualify for the World Cup, it will be Buffon’s sixth, and no-one has appeared in more.
The usual mob of Italians are all in the squad for the play-off games, including Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi and Marco Verratti. But one player who I’m particularly interested in watching is Lazio striker Ciro Immobile.
The 27-year-old already has 14 goals in Serie A this season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was to add to his tally on Friday.
The betting angle
Sweden are huge 11/4 with Winner to qualify for the World Cup next summer, and with some of the performances they put in against the likes of Holland and France, this look slightly too big.
But I’m going to have a punt on goals in this game. Sweden scored an average of 2.6 goals per game in qualifying, including two against the Dutch and the French.
Italy also scored 20+ in qualifying and with the likes of Immobile, Belotti and Insigne, you have to think they’ll get at least one on Friday.
Both Teams To Score appeals at 15/13 (10BET).
Sweden v Italy – Both Teams To Score (15/13 10BET)