Albania vs Italy - Italy face Albania with one eye already on WC qualifying play-offs

Posted Sunday, October 08, 2017 by PA

Italy can begin their preparations for the World Cup play-offs when they head to Albania.

Friday's disappointing 1-1 draw with Macedonia means the Italians cannot catch Group G leaders Spain.

Nor can they be caught in second, however, and Belgium's win over Bosnia-Herzegovina means they are guaranteed a place in the play-offs.

But Azzurri manager Gian Piero Ventura is under no illusions about the task facing them if they are to reach Russia next year.

"If we play like we did in the second half then we will struggle to get through the play-offs. It doesn't take a coach to realise that," he told a press conference.

"The result was not positive, it is not what we wanted, nor what we expected.

"The only thing that matters is getting our energy back, recover a few players and go to achieve what this group deserves, which is a place in the play-offs."

Former Italy defender Christian Panucci faces his countrymen as Albania coach, and admitted it will be an emotional evening for him.

"It will be an incredible feeling to be facing my own country, but I am a professional and will defend my work to the death," Panucci told Mediaset Premium.

"I am hard on the outside, but I too have a heart. I'll motivate my players to give their best.

"I won't sing the Italian anthem because, to be fair, I never did even when I was a player.

"I preferred to keep that moment inside myself, always with respect, listening and feeling those emotions within me. I'll do the same again on Monday."

Panucci has plenty of sympathy for his opposite number.

He added: "It is perfectly understandable to finish second in a group behind Spain, but we know that in Italy there is often too much negativity.

"Ventura inherited the squad in a difficult moment for Italian football. He launched many careers of young players and I really admire him."

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