World champions Italy can clinch their place in the FIFA World Cup finals should they finally kill off the challenge of the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Saturday evening.
Both sides are unbeaten in Group 8 but the Azzurri lead Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland by four points heading into the penultimate round of qualifiers this week.
A point will secure Marcello Lippi's side qualification to the finals while Ireland need to pick up two points from their final qualifiers if they are to be assured a place in the play-offs, with Bulgaria still in with a shout.
The Italy camp is under something of a shadow on the eve of the match after it emerged captain Fabio Cannavaro failed a drug test after taking a medicine that contained the banned substance cortisone.
Cannavaro's club, Juventus, have claimed the defender needed cortisone treatment for an insect sting in August, but the incident is not expected to prevent him joining with the squad in Coverciano on Sunday as planned.
Cannavaro was interviewed by the Italian Olympic Committee's (CONI) anti-doping prosecutor in Turin but Lippi does not expect his star to be absent from the squad.
"I have not spoken to Cannavaro," said Lippi. "But there was no need. Will he be here with us on Sunday? Of course he will."
Cannavaro would not have featured in Dublin as he serves a one-match ban, but is expected to lead the Azzurri in their final qualifier against Cyprus in Parma on Wednesday.
Lippi, who will also be without the injured Juve midfielder Claudio Marchisio for the final qualifiers, insisted his team will play for the victory on Saturday despite only needing a single point.
"I want us to qualify tomorrow and not only for superstitious reasons," he said. "There are two results out of a possible three that will benefit us in Dublin.
"We need a point but it will be a mistake to play for the draw. We have to play our game."
Former Italy coach Trapattoni is making no apologies for desperately wanting his Irish side to beat his native country at Croke Park.
"These two games [against Italy and Montenegro at home] will be for us the passport to South Africa. We know Italy are the world champions and they are still one of the best three or four teams in the world.
"Maybe for Italy there is only prestige in the result; for us, these two games are not only big games, but they are important to our hopes of going to South Africa and the World Cup.
"We always play for three points, in every game we play for three points. We can't think about a draw being enough for us, that would be very dangerous. We can't go on to the pitch thinking it's enough to draw.
"In my experience, the team must play always for three points, and that could be very important for us and our hopes of going to South Africa.
"We have to believe in our attitude, we have to believe in our discipline, and up until now, we have achieved good results because of that mentality."
Elsewhere in the group, already-eliminated Cyprus play host to a Bulgarian side still with an outside chance of pipping the Republic to second place and a play-off berth.
The third-placed Bulgarians have only suffered one loss in eight qualifiers but five draws have left them trailing Trapattoni's men by five points with two matches remaining.
Montenegro and Georgia do battle in Podgorica as both try to avoid the ignominy of finishing bottom of the pile in Group 8.