The Azzurri had a very poor showing in Sweden last night, while Croatia and Switzerland made steps towards to the 2018 World Cup, and Ivory Coast will play for a ticket to Russia this evening.
The November 2017 international break is underway and so far, it has been a mixed bag for the Rossoneri representatives.
Last night in Solna, with Gianluigi Donnarumma on the bench for 90 minutes and Leonardo Bonucci alongside his old Juventus teammates Gigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, Italy and Gian Piero Ventura took on Sweden in the first leg of the 2018 World Cup qualification playoff.
Ventura decided to play 3-5-2 but it simply did not work. For Milan fans this type of match seemed familiar as the two strikers had zero chemistry while the midfield was nonexistent, with everything starting from the back three. It really did look as though Ventura was talking to Vincenzo Montella before the match for some tips, because Italy just looked very, very poor in this set-up.
With Zlatan Ibrahimović watching from the stands, Sweden, who played a very physical match, were the better side (despite not really creating too many goal-scoring chances) and in the 61′ minute, Jakob Johansson’s shot was deflected into the back of the net. Bonucci finished the match with a fractured nose after getting elbowed by Ola Toivonen in the very first minute of the encounter.
Italy will just have to do better in the return leg at San Siro on Monday night (20:45 CET). The Azzurri fans around the world will hope that 2017-Milan-esque performance doesn’t repeat itself.
On Thursday night in Belfast, Switzerland and Ricardo Rodriguez visited Northern Ireland. The side of Vladimir Petković created several chances but did not have the needed fire power to break through the Green and White Army defense. Then, however, came the controversial call of ref Ovidiu Hațegan.
Hațegan pointed to the white spot, giving the Swiss a penalty. Milan’s Rodriguez stepped up and beat Michael McGovern from 11 meters in the 58′ minute. Switzerland had an excellent Group Stage run, finishing it with 27 points, and on Sunday at 18:00 CET, they will try to book a place in Russia.
With Rodriguez was in Belfast, Nikola Kalinić and Croatia hosted Greece for a crucial match. Kalinić was picked to start and played 76 great minutes, getting Man of the Match awards from several news outlets. Croatia scored first through Luka Modrić (13′ pk) and then the Milan striker finished the move that he started with a little backheel flick on the ball to give the Vatreni the 2-0 in the 19′ minute.
Ex-Milan center back Sokratis Papastathopoulos pulled one back for Greece (30′) but Inter’s Ivan Perišić’s header made it 3-1 in the 33′ minute. Andrej Kramarić (49′) scored the last of the night, giving Croatia a 4-1 lead heading into the second leg in Piraeus tomorrow night at 20:45 CET.
Some friendlies were also played in the last few days: André Silva played the full match in Portugal’s 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia. While Silva wasn’t on the target, the same can’t be said of Cristian Zapata as he played 90 minutes and scored for Colombia in their 2-1 defeat against Republic of Korea.
Hakan Çalhanoğlu played 64 minutes in Turkey’s 2-0 defeat to Romania on Thursday evening. A bit earlier on Thursday, Manuel Locatelli and Patrick Cutrone played 45 minutes and 70 minutes respectively as Italy U21 lost 2-1 to Serie B’s Pescara, who are coached by Zdeněk Zeman. Matteo Gabbia and Italy U19 meanwhile lost to Netherlands 2-1 in Zeist two days ago.
Moving on to today’s matches, Franck Kessié and Ivory Coast face Morocco (18:30 CET) in a match they have to win in order to qualify for the WC, while Suso and Spain play Costa Rica (21:30 CET).