Italy coach Roberto Mancini says midfielder Nicolo Barella and striker Andrea Belotti should be available for Friday’s World Cup qualifier at home to Switzerland, boosting the European champion after losing key personnel to injury.
Italy tops Group C with two games left but is locked on 16 points with Switzerland, and the country that wins Friday’s game will take control of the group. Only the group winner is guaranteed a place in next year’s finals in Qatar, while the second-placed team faces a playoff.
Italy visits Northern Ireland in its final game on Monday, while Switzerland will host Bulgaria.
Mancini’s side will be without captain Giorgio Chiellini and first-choice forward Ciro Immobile due to muscle injuries while Inter Milan midfielder Barella was forced off with muscle fatigue in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with AC Milan.
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But the coach gave a positive update on Barella, one of the key players in Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph, and said Belotti was likely to start up front even though he had not yet returned to full fitness following an ankle injury sustained in August.
“Barella is fine, he trained yesterday and I think he can be on the field tomorrow,” Mancini told a news conference.
“Belotti is doing well, physically he won’t be at 100% because he comes from a serious injury. Maybe he doesn’t have 90 minutes in him so it would be great if he could score in the first hour or so.”
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“We’re sorry for Immobile and Chiellini, but it’s the same thing for all national teams, there are always a lot of injuries at this stage of the season. But we are in a positive situation, we know what we are as a team and we must remain calm.”
Mancini was also looking forward to Italy returning to the Olympic Stadium, where it won its three Euro 2020 group games against Turkey, Switzerland and Wales to lay the foundations for eventually winning the tournament.
“I’m sure the crowd will give us a big hand, it’s always nice to play at the Olympic Stadium, the atmosphere is always good there and it will be the same tomorrow,” he added.