Some World Cup qualifiers can feel like glorified training sessions and complete wastes of time. For the perfect example, see England winning 8-0 in San Marino this week, or indeed any game San Marino have ever played. However, Italy traditionally struggle to find the motivation for this type of match and even when going in front don’t seem particularly intent on pushing for a second. This is why the trip to Malta on Tuesday evening will be tense rather than comical.
Fresh from a spectacular 2-2 draw with Brazil, the Azzurri are already thinking ahead to their club commitments with Serie A, the Champions League and Europa League looming large. Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo are suspended, though Claudio Marchisio should be available after tonsillitis ruled him out of the friendly in Geneva at the last minute. Malta lost 6-0 to Bulgaria on Friday evening, confirming their status as Group B minnows with four defeats in as many games, scoring one goal and conceding 12. Cesare Prandelli has a job on his hands to fire them up for this task.
While England fans were able to sit back and enjoy their Italian beer in what passed for stands around the San Marino pitch, Italy supporters know they rarely get to feel so relaxed. Watching the Nazionale isn’t a relaxing experience. Ever. This is the side that needed a last-gasp goal to beat the Faroe Islands 2-1 in a qualifier. Let’s also not forget that when they faced Malta in September it was only a 2-0 victory, which had been 1-0 until Federico Peluso popped up in injury time.
Yes, Italy have beaten Malta in all five of their previous encounters, netting 17 goals with just two in reply. However, they have only ever scored a maximum of two goals on Maltese soil, winning 2-1 in December 1992 and 2-0 in December 1986. It may not be Brazil, but Malta are no training session either. Attitude will be absolutely crucial and those of us with years of experience watching the Azzurri will know it is often their worst problem. So will Malta Coach Pietro Ghedin, a former Italy assistant manager under Cesare Maldini, Dino Zoff and Giovanni Trapattoni.
So by all means get the drinks in for the game, but be prepared to spill some occasionally as you mutter insults at the TV.