Rome (AFP) – Leonardo Bonucci said Thursday that he wants Italy to forget the pain of failing to qualify for the last World Cup as the European champions prepare for a key match in the charge for next year’s tournament in Qatar.

Italy face Switzerland in Rome on Friday hoping for a return to international football’s biggest stage after their disastrous campaign for the 2018 World Cup, in which they lost in a play-off with Sweden to miss out for the first time in six decades.

But Bonucci says the Azzurri, who are ahead of the Swiss at the top of Group C on goal difference, need to play with the same joy which took them to Euro 2020 in the summer.

“The experience of 2017 has stayed with us, just like any positive or negative experience,” said Bonucci.

“They leave their mark but we need to look forward, experience it with the right level of pressure and not with any more worry than for the final at Wembley. We need to put some joy out on the pitch.”

Boosting Italy’s chances in their final two qualifying matches against Switzerland and Northern Ireland, who they face at Windsor Park on Monday, is the news Nicolo Barella is fit to play in midfield.

Barella went off midway through the second-half of last weekend’s Milan derby and was a doubt.

However, unlike captain Giorgio Chiellini and starting centre-forward Ciro Immobile has recovered in time for the two crucial matches.

“He’s doing well, he trained yesterday. He’s doing well and I think tomorrow could be on the pitch,” said coach Roberto Mancini. 

Mancini added he was not sure who would replace Immobile up front, although Italian media report Andrea Belotti will start as striker.

“Regarding the forwards we still have training today and tomorrow, we are close to making a decision but we haven’t yet, and whatever decision we make isn’t going to change much anyway.”