Malta-Italy Preview: Marchisio and Abate return
With Bulgaria hot on their heels, the Azzurri are looking to extend their lead at the top of Group B with victory against Pietro Ghedin's minnows
By Max Bentley
Caruana, Agius, Dimech, Camilleri
Muscat, Failla, R.Fenech, Herrera
Maggio, Barzagli, Bonucci, De Sciglio
Montolivo, Pirlo, Giaccherini
Balotelli, El Shaarawy
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli can welcome back Claudio Marchisio and Ignazio Abate for the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Malta after the pair missed the 2-2 friendly draw with Brazil on Thursday.
Abate is vying with Napoli's Christian Maggio for the right-back role, whilst Marchisio is expected to come into the midfield in place of the suspended Daniele De Rossi. Pablo Daniel Osvaldo also misses out through suspension, meaning that Stephan El Shaarawy could partner his AC Milan team-mate Mario Balotelli up front.
Mattia De Sciglio is expected to maintain his spot at left-back after impressing on his international debut, whilst Giorgio Chiellini is also pushing for a start. Gianluigi Buffon is set for his 126th Azzurri cap between the sticks and Alessandro Florenzi has joined the squad from the Under-21 set-up.
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin could be tempted to make changes to the side which were crushed 6-0 by Bulgaria on Friday evening.
Roderick Briffa and Paul Fenech were both substituted in that defeat and their replacements Ryan Camilleri and Rowen Muscat could be in line for starting berths.
Michael Mifsud, Malta's leading all-time goalscorer with 36 goals, is once again set to lead the front line and is looking for his first goal in qualifying.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Milan striker Mario Balotelli (pictured, right), who scored Italy's equaliser in Thursday's 2-2 draw with Brazil, has notched eight goals in eight games for club and country in 2013.
Malta are managed by Pietro Ghedin, who between 1996-2004, was the assistant coach of the Italian national team.
Italy have played the archipelago nation on five occasions, winning all the ties by a combined score of 17-2.
In the reverse fixture back in September, the Azzurri emerged 2-0 winners courtesy of goals from Mattia Destro and Federico Peluso. However, both players have been omitted from Prandelli's squad selection this time around.
Malta are yet to register a point in 2014 World Cup qualifying, having lost all four of their opening group matches and scoring a solitary goal in the process.
In the most recent Fifa world rankings, Italy are ranked fifth and Malta 147th.
Top 3 Predictions
Malta 0-3 Italy
- 28.01 %
Malta 0-4 Italy
- 14.88 %
Malta 0-2 Italy
- 13.13 %
|World Cup 2014 (Europe) (WCQE)||Mar 26, 2013||Malta 0 - Italy 2|
|World Cup 2014 (Europe) (WCQE)||Sep 11, 2012||Italy 2 - Malta 0|
|Nov 19, 2013||Malta 3 - Faroe Islands 2||FR|
|Oct 15, 2013||Denmark 6 - Malta 0||WCQE|
|Oct 11, 2013||Malta 1 - Czech Republic 4||WCQE|
|Sep 10, 2013||Malta 1 - Bulgaria 2||WCQE|
|Sep 6, 2013||Malta 1 - Denmark 2||WCQE|
|-||Jacob Dominico Borg||Defender|
|5||Mattia De Sciglio||Defender|
|-||Stephan El Shaarawy|
|-||Morgan De Sanctis|