Saturday, 17 November 2007

[Scotland v Italy] Match Preview

Italy will be looking to restore national pride and book a place at next year's European Championship finals when they face Scotland in a crunch Group B qualifier this evening.

Last year the Azzurri rose above the Calciopoli scandal that was dominating the domestic game to win the World Cup in Germany and now they will attempt to overcome a painful week in which football-related violence has tarnished the image of Serie A again.

Today's match will be played just six days after Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri was killed by police at a motorway service station, a tragedy that prompted unruly scenes at Atalanta's game and rioting at the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) headquarters in Rome.

"If we are able to get a good result in Scotland and qualify, we would dedicate it to the family of the victim," said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon before the team's departure from Italy. "It would be the best present we could give them."

Italy's players will wear black armbands in honour of Sandri.

The world champions can seal their place in next summer's showpiece in Austria and Switzerland with a win at Hampden Park. Defeat, however, would leave their hopes of qualification hanging by a thread and coach Roberto Donadoni's future in doubt.

The fixture has the potential to serve up a fairytale ending for the home side, whose last major international tournament was the FIFA World Cup in France almost a decade ago.

A win would seal their qualification and an unbeaten home record against Italy will boost the Scots' hopes of coming through one of the toughest qualifying groups, as will the fact Alex McLeish's men have not dropped a point on home soil throughout the campaign.

In the reverse fixture back in March Italy won 2-0 in Bari, and defeat here for the Scots would end all chances of qualifying. A draw would mean the Tartan Army would have to rely on Ukraine beating France on Wednesday.

France top the group with 25 points, Scotland are second on 24 and Italy third on 23, although the Azzurri have played one game fewer and face minnows Faroe Islands in their final game on Wednesday.

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