As the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers enter Matchday 9, Italy looks to continue what has so far been a spectacular resurgence. The Italians failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
Under new manager Roberto Mancini, the Azzurri now stand as one of only two teams in the Euro qualifying round to win all eight of their games so far. The other is Belgium. But Italy has already qualified for the 2020 tournament and face a difficult test when they travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday to face a team that absolutely must win to keep their hopes of direct qualification alive.
Mancini was confident that his team would not suffer a letdown, despite facing a tough and highly motivated opponent in the hostile environment of 15,600-seat Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica, according to UEFA.
"Bosnia and Herzegovina have always won in this stadium but we want to continue our positive streak," Mancini said on Thursday. "If they beat us we will congratulate them, but they will have to play well."
The Dragons have not lost in their last seven home games, with five wins. But the Italians have not only won nine straight, including an international friendly victory over the United States on November 20, 2018, they have not lost in 12 matches. Their last defeat was a 1-0 loss to Portugal on September 18, 2018, in the UEFA Nations League.
Not surprisingly, oddsmakers have Italy as favorites in the Friday match, but not by as much as might be expected given the perfect record boasted by Mancini's squad. According to The Soccer Times, bettors will get rather narrow 6-5 odds on an Italy victory in Zenica.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the other hand, are placed at substantially longer odds of 11-5 according to The Soccer Times. The odds of the teams combining for more than 2.5 goals stand at 3-4.
Bosnia and Herzegovina sits in fourth place with 10 points, and must win not only Friday's game against Italy, but Monday's contest away at Liechtenstein as well. But even those two wins will not be enough if Finland takes three points in their contest against winless Liechtenstein on Friday.
Mancini will make some changes for Italy's final two qualifying matches — they host Armenia on Monday — bringing in a trio of highly rated youngsters, according to a Press Association report. Brescia defender Andrea Cistana, Fiorentina midfielder Gaetano Castrovilli, and Bologna forward Riccardo Orsolini are all expected to make their international debuts in Zenica.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Italy match gets underway at 8:45 p.m. local time on Friday, November 15, in Zenica. That start time will be 2:45 p.m. ET in the United States, where the game may be viewed via the online streaming service ESPN+.