Fri, Nov 10, 3:52pm by Staff Writer
Four-time champion Italy risks missing its first World Cup in 60 years as it heads to Sweden this week in for a must-win qualifying playoff.
Italy has not missed the World Cup since 1958 has not needed to qualify through a playoff since 1998, when it defeated Russia 2-1 on aggregate.
Italy went on to win its group at that tournament before losing in the quarterfinals to France, the hosts and eventual champions, on penalties.
Italy finds itself in the uncomfortable position of needing to win a playoff after finishing second to Spain in qualifying Group G after winning seven and drawing two of their 10 matches.
Sweden had six victories and three defeats to finish second to France on 19 points in Group A and is looking for a 12th World Cup appearance and first since 2006.
The last time Sweden beat Italy in a competitive game was in 1987 when it took a 1-0 victory in the qualifying round of Euro 1988.
Italy is the favourite to deny Sweden another victory on Saturday, with William Hill paying $2.30 for a win, with $3.40 for a loss and $3 for a draw.
Closer to home, New Zealand hosts the South American fifth-placed finisher Peru on Saturday in the first leg of their playoff.
The world No.122 All Whites would easily be the lowest ranked team at the World Cup if they advance to soccer’s biggest stage for the first time in eight years.
In New Zealand’s favour is the absence of Peru’s star striker and captain Guerrero, who was handed a provisional ban for doping by FIFA last week.
New Zealand’s A-League-based attacker Kosta insists the Oceania winner has an even chance of qualifying for Russia 2018.
“It’s 50-50. You never really know until you’re out there but everyone’s fit and we’ve got our strongest squad,” Barbarouses said.
Peru is the $1.80 favourite to take the points, with New Zealand on $4.80 and $3.40 for a draw.
Both the Republic of Ireland and its North Ireland cousins are vying for World Cup spots the Republic travelling to Denmark in its bid for its first appearance since 2002.
The Republic of Ireland will be feeling the pressure, with 10 of its players sitting on yellow cards, and any infraction could cost it dearly in the return leg.
Denmark, which last qualified in for the World Cup in 2010 and finished second behind Poland in its qualifying group, is the $1.72 favourite, with Ireland at $5.50.
Northern Ireland host Switzerland in the second leg of their playoff on Monday after losing 1-0 Friday morning at home on a contentious penalty.
Switzerland was despite winning nine of its 10 group matches in qualifying and missed out on direct qualification to Portugal only on goal difference.
Switzerland is on just $1.50 to win its home leg and advance, with Northern Ireland at $6.
Croatia claimed a commanding 4-1 home win over Greece in their playoff Friday to make it the favourite to claim the return match.
Croatia is on $2.20 to win Monday and advance, with Greece paying $3.10.
Suggested Bet: Italy to win at $2.30
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