Pre-Euro 2012 Friendly Betting: Italy v Russia


Italy 2.3, the draw 3.1, Russia 3.2

Somehow, Cesare Prandelli still has a smile on his face. On Monday the Italy manager had to endure a dawn police raid on his team’s training base at Coverciano, officers searching the room of Domenico Criscito as part of an ongoing match-fixing investigation. Criscito, arguably Italy’s strongest left-back, maintains his innocence but was dropped from the squad. A day later, the Azzurri’s scheduled friendly against Luxembourg was cancelled after an earthquake in Emilia-Romagna killed more than 15 people.

It has since emerged that another defender, Leonardo Bonucci, will have to face questioning as part of a separate match-fixing investigation, though he too denies wrongdoing. The goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, meanwhile, drew a disapproving response from prosecutors after acknowledging how teams might see the mutual benefit in a draw towards the end of a campaign, saying: “better two wounded than one dead”.

Prandelli, then, has been left trying to orchestrate Euro 2012 preparations at a time when that is the last thing on the rest of the nation’s mind. And yet, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, he remained upbeat: “Things could have gone a lot better, but equally they could have been worse,” he said. On Friday against Russia he hopes his players will help him prove the point.

Team news

The one piece of good news for Prandelli is the return to fitness of Giorgio Chiellini, who was able to take part in a training match on Wednesday. He will likely play at least some part against Russia, though the manager may choose to start with his Juventus team-mates Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli before introducing Chiellini later in the game. Prandelli also hopes to try different alternatives up front – testing both a 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2.

Russia should be more predictable, continuing with Dick Advocaat’s preferred 4-3-3. One or two variations are expected to the team which drew with Lithuania on Tuesday night, with the CSKA Moscow playmaker Alan Dzagoev likely to start as he continues his recovery from a broken toe.

Form

Italy are unbeaten in competitive fixtures under Prandelli, conceding just two goals in 10 games as they cruised through qualifying, yet they have lost each of their two most recent friendlies – against Uruguay in November, then USA in February. Unlike Italy, Russia have already played two warm-ups for Euro 2012 – drawing with each of Uruguay and Lithuania in the past eight days.

Main man: Italy

Andrea Pirlo hardly needs a warm-up, having started 41 of Juventus’s 43 games in all competitions this season, but Cesare Prandelli will certainly be grateful he is present. The Juventus midfielder might seem to have been around forever, but after rediscovering his best form with the Bianconeri he is the single most important out-field player in this side.

Main man: Russia

A late-bloomer and a notorious trouble-maker he may be, but Roman Shirokov has developed into a crucial player in midfield for Advocaat’s side. He scored five of Zenit’s eight goals as they reached the last 16 of the Champions League last season, and could be good value in the first scorer market at 18.0.

Goalscorer betting

Don’t expect a hatful of goals between two teams whose progress through qualifying was founded first and foremost on defensive solidity, but should he start then Antonio Nocerino could be decent value to get his name on the scoresheet at 11.0. The midfielder racked up 10 goals in 35 games for Milan this season.

Head to head

These teams have met four times since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, with three wins for Italy and one draw. The most recent encounter was a friendly in November 2005, which Italy won 2-0 through strikes from Alberto Gilardino and Daniele Bonera.

The verdict

With Italy experimenting and Russia showing a lack of cutting edge up front in each of their previous two friendlies, a low-scoring match is in prospect. Odds of 2.75 on under 1.5 goals look short but could still pay dividends. The draw also looks tempting at 3.1.