MILAN (AP) Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura is hoping his players can combat Sweden’s physicality with their footballing talent when they meet again in the second leg of their World Cup playoff on Monday.
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Italy was outraged at Sweden’s physical approach in the first leg, protesting for yellow cards at perceived excessive contact, and Ventura felt Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir was too lenient.
Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci will play on Monday with a protective mask after his nose was broken during the match.
“I think the match could have been controlled in a more sportsmanlike manner,” Ventura said in a press conference on Sunday. “And that much is evident if someone tomorrow has to play with a mask on.
“But we’re Italy. If we qualify we have to do so by playing football. That doesn’t mean that Sweden doesn’t. I don’t know what kind of match it will be tomorrow, but I hope there will be better sporting behavior.”
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Italy finished behind Spain in its qualifying group and is now in danger of missing its first World Cup since 1958 after losing the first leg of its playoff 1-0 in Sweden.
“I know the match is fundamental for us, but it’s the same scenario that there was when I joined the national team,” said Ventura, who replaced Antonio Conte after the 2016 European Championship. “We knew that Spain was in our group and we could end up in the playoffs. We can’t be surprised to have got to this point.
“I honestly don’t understand: people are surprised we’re here playing this playoff but that was the scenario from the beginning. Now we’re here, if we lose we’ll make certain decisions, if we win we’ll make others.”
Ventura insisted he was calm and he appeared relaxed at the pre-match press conference, laughing and joking with Italy captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The match has an added significance for Buffon, who is set to retire at the end of the season. Should Italy fail to qualify it could be the veteran goalkeeper’s last international match after 20 years between the posts for the Azzurri.
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“It’s happened so many times in my career that I’ve been in front of important crossroads,” Buffon said. “It doesn’t change anything concerning my future, what would change is that a win, more than meaning I would continue in the national shirt, would mean so much for all of us and for the footballing movement.
“At the moment my situation is secondary, it doesn’t matter.”
Buffon, who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, has experienced the build-up to many important matches in a long and glittering career with Italy and Juventus.
As well as the World Cup final, Buffon also reached the final of Euro 2012 with Italy, and he also lost three Champions League finals with Juventus.
“Certainly it’s a very tense moment, it’s inevitable looking at the place that’s at stake and looking at the sense of responsibility that each one of us must have,” Buffon said.
“We’re the same as before any important event. Us players are experiencing this calmly, but each of us is experiencing it in their own personal way. Personally, I’ve been tense since Friday, I have the right focus for this match.”