Turin (Italy) (AFP) – Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini is upbeat ahead of Italy’s crucial 2018 World Cup qualifying game against Macedonia on Friday despite fears the team could miss out on the tournament.
The Azzurri are in a fragile state mentally and physically after a crushing defeat to Spain last month left them facing the prospect of having to go through the play-offs to book their ticket to Russia next year.
For Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio it would be an “apocalypse” not to reach the finals with Olympic committee chief Giovanni Malago evoking a “sporting tragedy” and coach Gian Piero Ventura a “catastrophe”.
“Unfortunately, there are highs and lows and people don’t have to go over the top with what they say,” insisted Chiellini, who is set to earn his 93rd cap at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin.
“We have to ignore these voices. We’ll face the play-offs with great confidence and respect for our opponents,” said Chiellini, adding that Friday’s game would be “fundamental for morale”.
Italy are second in Group G behind Spain with their final qualifying game in Albania on Monday.
Only the group winner qualifies automatically, and the four-time world champions need only a point from the two matches to secure second place in the group and a spot in the play-offs.
It would take an incredible series of circumstances for Albania — six points adrift in third — to overtake the Italians.
In the group, Israel are fourth ahead of Macedonia and Liechtenstein.
For Ventura the objective is to boost confidence and their FIFA ranking for the play-offs and the World Cup draw in Moscow on December 1.
“In the next two matches, we’ll have to get the two points which will give us a better position in the play-off,” said Ventura.
“We’re going on as we always do, against Israel we had to win, this obligation is always there for us.
“We’re calm going into the game after one of the best weeks for work and preparation.”
Despite bringing in new blood to an ageing team since taking over a year ago, Ventura’s side has been badly hampered by injury.
Five first choice players are absent in midfield — Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Claudio Marchisio and Riccardo Montolivo.
And top striker Andrea Belotti has been ruled out for a month and is also uncertain for the play-offs on November 9 and 14.