Soccer: Italy to face Sweden in World Cup playoff
By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) - Four-times world champions Italy were given a tough draw against Sweden on Tuesday in their two-legged playoff for a place at next year's World Cup. Italy, who last failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1958, will play the second leg at home on Nov. 13 in the most eye-catching of the four ties. Switzerland, who finished second in their qualifying group despite winning nine of their 10 games, were drawn against Northern Ireland, who last qualified in 1986, with the first match in Belfast. Croatia, who were runners-up behind Iceland in their group, will face Greece with the first leg at home. The fourth tie pits Ireland, who will be playing in a playoff for a major tournament for the ninth time, against Denmark, who host the first match.
Sweden have not beaten Italy in their last five meetings, since a friendly in 1998, and the Italians won a dour game 1-0 at Euro 2016.
But the prospect of having their fate decided in a two-leg playoff, after finishing runners-up behind Spain in their group, has got the Italian media and public on edge.
"We had the toughest qualification group against Netherlands and against France and we played some really good games. If we can play at the level, then we can beat any team in the world, including Italy," Sweden coach Janne Andersson told Reuters.
"We have a lot of good young players and some experienced players - we have a good mix in the team.
"We have a good mentality in the team, we have confidence."
His opposite number Gian Piero Ventura did not attend the draw at FIFA headquarters.
Northern Ireland coach Michael O'Neill, whose team includes a number of English second tier players, said his side would make life as difficult as possible for Switzerland, who are bidding to qualify for their fourth successive World Cup.
"We're here on merit. We were second in our group behind the Germans, of course we can believe we can win it," he said.
"We can make the tie very difficult for Switzerland. They will be favourites to go through, we believe we are capable of overcoming them."
Ireland coach Martin O'Neill said: "I know Denmark and I know the manager Age Hareide, he and I used to play together so it will be an interesting confrontation."
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic will be taking charge of only his second and third games after he was appointed two days before their final group match against Ukraine.
"I respect Greece but I am convinced itâ€™s down to how we perform," he said. "The tricky bit is that we are playing the return leg away."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Phil O'Connor in Stockholm and Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade, editing by Ed Osmond)