South American heavyweights Argentina begin their World Cup preparations with a clash against four time winners Italy.
The future is less clear for the Azzurri, who suffered a humiliating play-off defeat against Sweden, failing to qualify for the summer showpiece for the first time since 1958. Luigi Di Biagio takes caretaker charge until a successor to Gian Piero Ventura has been found.
Where and when: Etihad Stadium – 23 March, kick-off 19:45
Where you can see Argentina vs. Italy: William Hill live streaming
Last time: The two giants last faced off in 2013, and it was a familiar face who opened the scoring. New Napoli sharpshooter Gonzalo Higuain struck first before Ever Banega doubled the advantage. Lorenzo Insigne netted late on but it wasn’t enough for the Italians.
Argentina v Italy Predictions and Preview
Argentina will go to Russia as one of the frontrunners, and rightly so. Jorge Sampaoli has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal and there are a host of glaring omissions from his latest selection.
Juventus star Paulo Dybala, who is in the form of his life, was the most notable absentee. Similarly, compatriot Mauro Icardi has struggled to impress Sampaoli, despite another guaranteed 20-goal haul for Inter. The duo would arguably be starters for any national side in world football and Dybala can consider himself unlucky to be out of favour.
Club-mate Higuain should get another chance to lead the line and will be a familiar face to the Italy rearguard. The Juventus hitman will tussle it out with Mattia De Sciglio and Daniele Rugani and it promises to be a fascinating duel between the Bianconeri players. The 1986 world champions are 10/11 to win, and 12/5 to register in both-halves in what is a glitz encounter during the international break.
Interim boss Di Biagio’s 26-man group for the contests with Argentina and England included a debut call-up for Patrick Cutrone and the youngster has warranted the opportunity after his breakthrough campaign with Milan. Mario Balotelli won’t be featuring for the Azzurri even though he was widely expected to make a long awaited return to the squad. The Nice attacker has 22 strikes to his name this term and has largely behaved well during his time in France. Italy are 16/5 to claim a morale boosting victory before the trip to Wembley where they will face the Three Lions.
One to watch for Argentina: Lionel Messi, obviously. The Barcelona number ten will be the main attraction and it’s likely to be a long evening for an inexperienced Azzurri backline. The Albiceleste skipper is 4/1 to bag any time during the meeting.
One to watch for Italy: Jack Bonaventura is back in the Italy fold for the first time in over a year. The versatile Rossoneri midfielder is 21/2 to record the game’s final effort.
Long shot: Historically, the Blues tend to go through the motions in non-competitive matchups, but this is now a transitional Italy. There are a number of new faces, and the likes of Cutrone and Federico Chiesa will want to stake their claim for a regular berth in the national setup going forward. Argentina may be the favourites, but an Azzurri 3-2 triumph is available at 187/4, and has promise.