Italy are set to play host to Northern Ireland at the Stadio Ennio Tardini on Thursday for their latest FIFA World Cup qualifying fixture.
The opening match of Group C for both sides could set the tone for their hopes of making it to the first end-of-year World Cup in the competition’s long and illustrious history.
Italy come into this game on the back of a 2-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina last November at the Stadion Grbavica.
Northern Ireland, on the other hand, drew 1-1 against Romania last November at Windsor Park.
Italy have gone from strength-to-strength since a disastrous 2018, recording 10 wins from 10 in Euro 2020 qualifying and topping Group A1 in the Nations League.
Northern Ireland finished bottom of their Nations League group last year and conceded 24 times in those combined 14 games.
- This will be the tenth meeting between Italy and Northern Ireland. The former has picked up six wins in the previous nine games while the latter has won just once.
- Italy are unbeaten in each of their last six games against Northern Ireland.
- Out of the eight matches that they played last year, Northern Ireland pick up just the one victory (vs Bosnia and Herzegovina).
- Italy haven’t lost a single game since September 2018. They are currently on a 22-game unbeaten streak.
- Italy have kept a clean sheet in six of their last eight matches.
In nine head-to-head encounters between the two sides, Italy hold the clear advantage. They have won six games, lost one and drawn two.
The two clubs last faced each other way back in 2011, with Italy beating Northern Ireland 3-0.
Looking to blend some promising youngsters with the established old guard that failed to progress through the last World Cup qualifiers, Roberto Mancini has developed a consistent unit capable of pushing for major honours once more.
Italy have a good squad, with the likes of Federico Chiesa, Manuel Locatelli and Ciro Immobile all enjoying good seasons at club level.
Northern Ireland, on the other hand, will rely on the experience provided by players like Jonny Evans and Steven Davis.
Italy should have enough to triumph over Northern Ireland.
Our prediction: Italy to win @ 2.03