Italy and Armenia will square off in Naples on Tuesday in the final match for both teams under the umbrella of 2014 World Cup qualifying.
The Azzurri are coming off of a disappointing draw with Denmark on Friday, but Cesare Prandelli's squad has already secured a spot in Brazil next summer after winning six of their first nine matches and recording 21 points in the table.
Armenia haven't had the same amount of success in their march toward the World Cup, but they remain alive after a 2-1 win over Bulgaria that pulled Vardan Minasyan's side within one point of second place in the Group B table.
As noted by Sports Illustrated's Brian Straus, Yura Movsisyan's heroics have left Armenia within a win over Italy—and some help in the other Group B matches—of securing a spot in the playoffs and keeping their plane tickets to Brazil relevant:
Yura Movsisyan, a hero in Salt Lake and Yerevan. Armenia is still alive. With video: http://t.co/oDS86YAG34— Brian Straus (@BrianStraus) October 11, 2013
Both sides will treat this match with the greatest of importance, which should make for an exciting outcome at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday night.
When: Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. BST)
Where: Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy
Watch: Rai Internazionale
Odds*: Italy (-350), Armenia (+800), Draw (+400)
*Odds via Bovada, accurate as of 10/14/13.
European World Cup Qualifying Group B Table
Armenia Desperate for Second-Place Finish
Italy are playing for nothing but pride and momentum, but Armenia are the side with everything to gain from a win in Naples.
Although they are currently in fifth place in the table, Armenia are also just one point behind Bulgaria for the runner-up spot behind Italy. With three points, a draw in the Czech Republic-Bulgaria match and a miracle in the form of a Malta win or draw with Denmark, Armenia can still reserve a spot in Brazil.
The Armenians were an early candidate to finish last in the table, but three wins in their past four matches have turned that marching beat around. Between Movsisyan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Minasyan has the talent to pose a significant threat to the Italian defense.
Coming into this match with momentum and the threat of watching from home during the World Cup festivities next summer, expect Armenia to come out motivated and in sync in the first half against Italy.
Italy 2, Armenia 1
Although Armenia have their backs against the wall, Italy are the more talented side in this one.
Combine that with home-field advantage and the probable return of superstar striker Mario Balotelli, and the Italians have a great chance to deny Armenia the three points necessary to get the ball in motion for a surprise second-place table finish.
Speaking of Balotelli, the Azzurri Twitter account expects the Italian to get a first-team call from Prandelli on Tuesday night:
Expected lineup vs Armenia: Marchetti; Abate, Bonucci, Astori, Pasqual; Pirlo; Florenzi, Montolivo, Aquilani; Inisgne, Balotelli— Azzurri (@ItalianNT) October 14, 2013
If he can't go, Pablo Osvaldo will likely get the start up front. Osvaldo was one of three Italians who scored in Italy's 3-1 victory over Armenia during the first leg in Yerevan in 2012.
Lingering effects from the lackluster showing against Denmark will threaten to rear their ugly head again in the first half for Italy, but a late first-half goal and another in the second will give the Azzurri a much-needed win and make Armenia's dreams of Brazil just a distant memory.
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