Italy need to overturn a 1-0 playoff first-leg defeat against Sweden at the San Siro on Monday, if they want to avoid a potential national humiliation likened to the “apocalypse” by supporters.
But Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist believes they can cause a big upset in front of over 65,000 Italians.
“The pressure is all on them,” said the former Genoa player. “Italy are a great nation that has almost always played the World Cup. We have nothing to lose and we will go onto the pitch to give a great performance.”
“It is really important that we do not end up in a defensive position where we have to defend our goal for 90 minutes, because they are so skilled that they will hurt as sooner or later. That’s why I keep talking about courage, about taking the initiative and go for it when we have the chance,” said Sweden coach Janne Andersson.
Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura blamed bad luck and the referee for Friday’s defeat in Stockholm.
“The first-leg performance shows that we are perfectly capable of overturning the 1-0 result.”
“We analyzed the things that went well and others that did not go so well. I’m fully aware that this game is fundamental for us, but it’s the same scenario as when I first signed to lead the national side,” he continued.
— The Local Sweden (@TheLocalSweden) November 10, 2017
Marco Verratti is suspended for Monday’s game with Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci wearing a protective mask after breaking his nose in a bruising first leg against Sweden in Stockholm.
Captain Gianluigi Buffon, a veteran of the 2006 World Cup-winning campaign and looking to avoid an inglorious end to his Italy career, admitted the team were under pressure as they carry the weight of national pride.
Sweden came in second place in the 1958 World Cup. Italy are meanwhile superstars having won the competition four times – 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 – and lost two finals in 1970 and 1994.
“It is certainly a moment of high tension, considering what is at stake and the sense of responsibility each of us must bear,” said Buffon, who will earn his 175th cap in the San Siro.
“It is an important game for the history of our national team. The only thing that I would have would be a personal satisfaction, but in the wider scheme of things, I am irrelevant.”
He added: “We want to send Italians a message not with words, but with action on the pitch. We invite them to support us, but realize the time has come for us to show them what we’ve got.”