Italy aim for 15th consecutive World Cup appearance in playoff vs. Sweden
Italy will continue their attempt to qualify for a 15th consecutive World Cup and 19th overall when they visit suburban Stockholm to face Sweden in the first leg of the UEFA playoff round on Friday.
The Azzurri, who have not missed the World Cup since 1958, would match Germany for the second-most World Cup appearances of all time if they were to advance.
They have not needed to qualify for the World Cup through the playoff since 1998, when they defeated Russia 2-1 on aggregate. Italy later won their group before losing in the quarterfinals to France, the hosts and eventual champions, on penalties.
Sweden, meanwhile, are looking to make their 12th appearance in the World Cup and their first since 2006, when they lost to hosts Germany in the round of 16. They also reached the UEFA playoffs in 2013, losing 4-2 to Portugal on aggregate.
Although ESPN's Soccer Power Index gives Italy a 57 percent chance to qualify for the World Cup, it gives Sweden a 39 percent chance of winning the first leg.
The last time Sweden defeated Italy in a competitive game was on June 3, 1987, when they claimed a 1-0 victory in the qualifying round of Euro 1988. Italy won the second leg five months later, then managed at least a draw in each of the teams' next three meetings, including a 1-0 victory in the group stage of Euro 2016.
This year, Italy finished second to Spain in Group G on 23 points after winning seven and drawing two of their 10 qualifiers. Sweden had six victories and three defeats in finishing second to France on 19 points in Group A.
Sweden scored 26 goals in the first round of UEFA qualifying, the sixth-most in the competition. Eight of those were scored by Marcus Berg, who was joint-fifth in scoring in the group phase of qualifying.
Italy scored 21 goals during the first round, with that total led by eight from Lazio's Ciro Immobile and four from Torino's Andrea Belotti.
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