O’Neill’s Boys Can Do Italian Job On Azzurri
Martin O’Neill’s Ireland team travels to London to take on Brazil-bound Italy in their final summer friendly fixture. I look at how they can fare against Cesare Prandelli’s men and where the value lies.
Martin O’Neill has been given something of a rude awakening as to the scale of the task he faces as Irish boss in recent games. Ireland have suffered 2-1 home defeats in their last two games, to Serbia and Turkey, both of whom failed to qualify for Brazil 2014, and would, at least previously, be deemed comparable to this Irish side. O’Neill now has three further friendlies in which to evaluate his squad before qualification for the European Championship’s gets underway.
Italy have failed to win in their last five internationals, losing to Spain 1-0 last time out when Barcelona forwrd Pero hit the only goal of the game, although that came back in March. Draws with Denmark, Armenia, Germany and Nigeria came prior to that loss to the reigning World and European champions. Cesare Prandelli’s side finished at the top of their World Cup qualifying group and were unbeaten in their qualifying games, winning six and drawing four of ten to finish comfortably ahead of the Danes in second. This is the first of only two warm-up games for the Italians – the other being no more than a glorified fitness exercise against Luxembourg – before they play a first World Cup group game against England on June 14th.
James McCarthy, Joey O’Brien and Darren Randolph are all absent again for Ireland through injury or a lack of fitness with the trio unlikely to figure in any of Ireland’s summer internationals. LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane will remain in the United States and not meet up with the squad until they fly to America for the final part of the friendly series with games against Costa Rica and Portugal taking place in his adopted nation.
Kevin Doyle, Jeff Hendrick, Conor Sammon and Richard Keogh will all be in the reckoning once more after they all missed the loss to Turkey after their involvement in the Championship play-off final last Saturday. O’Neill and his management are likely to opt for David Forde in goal again after Rob Elliot made his international debut between the sticks at the weekend.
Prandelli has his full World Cup squad to select from with many fringe stars eager to impress.
The Italians have won four of the eight games played between these teams, including a 2-0 victory when they met at the European Championship group stages just under two years ago, with goals from Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli earning them progress to the knockout stages. Ireland reversed that scoreline in their previous encounter, with a surprise 2-0 win on Italian soil in 2011 while the record reads two wins and two draws apiece since Italy were the victors in each of the two international games between the teams in the early 1990′s.
On a neutral venue it’s perhaps unsurprising to see the Italians as overwhelming favourites, although it would be difficult to back them with a huge degree on confidence in what will primarily be a warm-up exercise in lieu of their hectic summer. At a massive 6/1 Ireland offer some value although it seems likely that O’Neill and his backroom team will view it as a defensive exercise so I’d steer towards the draw at 29/10.
The 4/6 on under 2.5 goals to be scored also makes perfect sense given the aims of both sides heading into the game so it not as off-putting as it might firstly appear while correct scores of 1-1 and 0-0 could reap dividends at odds of 7/1 and 17/2 respectively.