Italy won't take Azerbaijan lightly

2015-10-09 10:12
Stephan El Shaarawy (Getty Images)

Milan - Monaco forward Stephan El Shaarawy said Italy won't be taking Azerbaijan lightly when the Azzurri travel to Baku on Saturday looking to seal qualification for Euro 2016 with a game to spare.

Amid a number of Azzurri absences through injury, El Shaarawy is being tipped to start for Antonio Conte's Group H leaders following a string of encouraging performances at his French Ligue 1 side.

Azerbaijan, who sit 12 points adrift of Italy, have no chance of qualifying for next summer's championships in France but the group minnows can certainly throw a spanner into the works for Italy.

Azerbaijan lost their first four matches of the qualifying campaign but have been reborn since the appointment of Robert Prosinecki as coach.

They held Croatia to a scoreless draw in their last outing at home to take their tally to six points from their last four games.

A win for Italy in either of their last two qualifiers would seal their ticket for the championships.

Anything less than a win on Saturday could leave nerves frayed ahead of Italy's final qualifier, at home to Norway -- who sit second at two points adrift -- next Tuesday.

But Conte this week has stressed the need to wrap up qualification early and El Shaarawy said: "This is a really crucial game for us, we know a win will seal qualification for Europe and we've been working hard towards it.

"I think if we go out there completely focused on what we have to do and with the right belief we can bring the three points home."

Italy suffered a blow earlier this week when Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne, who hit a brace of goals in a 4-0 rout of AC Milan last week, was sent home with a swollen knee.

He was replaced by Milan midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura, prompting questions as to who Conte will deploy up front for the Azzurri.

When Insigne was still in the fray, he was expected to start on the left side of a 4-3-3 alongside Southampton striker Graziano Pelle and Antonio Candreva of Lazio.

But when it comes to his attack, Conte is not short on choice.

Toronto striker Sebastian Giovinco, Torino's Fabio Quagriella and Juventus striker Simone Zaza are all useful additions if Conte opts for a two-man attack.

Last month Giovinco and New York City FC's Andrea Pirlo became the first ever Italian internationals to earn call-ups while playing in the MLS, although the 'Atomic Ant' -- as Giovinco is known -- had to return home early through injury.

This time the former Juventus striker hopes to make his trip to Europe count, and told Rai Sport: "I'm happy to be back wearing the Italy jersey and to have earned my place in the national set-up.

"Just being here is already a victory. It was something I really hoped for, and was something I certainly didn't take for granted."

Read more on:    euro 2016  |  soccer

What To Read Next


Read News24’s Comments Policy

Live Video Streaming
Video Highlights
Sport Talk

Live scoring

Love 2 Meet
Sport24 on Twitter

Follow Sport24 news on Twitter

English Premiership flutter

Take Sport24's "expert" tips at your peril...


The 2017/18 Absa Premiership season is under way. Can Bidvest Wits defend their title? Will Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates emerge victorious? Or will the bookies' favourites, Mamelodi Sundowns, taste success for a record eighth time? Stay glued to Sport24 to find out!

Latest blogs

Do you think SAFA made the right choice in appointing Stuart Baxter as head coach of Bafana Bafana?

Twitter Follow Sport24 on Twitter

Facebook "Like" Sport24's Facebook page

WIN Enter and win with Sport24!

BlackBerry Stay in the loop on your BlackBerry

RSS Feeds Sport news delivered really simply.

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.