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Italy out to boost World Cup chances


PRAGUE — Italy will be looking to boost their chances of winning the 2014 World Cup football qualifying Group B and direct tickets to Brazil as they face the stumbling Czech Republic in Prague today.


Halfway through the qualifying campaign, Italy sit top of the group on 13 points, three ahead of Bulgaria, who have played one game more, with the Czech Republic on eight points from five games.

But a Czech win may put Italy under pressure as the hosts would come within two points of the leaders ahead of their clash in Italy in September.

The Czech Republic are “one of those teams you need to be able to beat because they never make things easy for you. If we go there and play below par we could well lose”, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon told the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.

“If you play a normal game you might be able to nick a point, but we want to produce a top performance so that we can increase the gap on the chasing pack,” said Buffon, whose wife is a former Czech model.

Italy, world champions in Germany in 2006, will be missing injured Genoa defender Luca Antonelli in Prague, replaced by experienced Juventus defender Andrea Barzagli.

Coach Cesare Prandelli will lean on reigning champions Juventus at the back, with keeper Buffon and defenders Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini among likely starters.

In midfield, Juve’s Andrea Pirlo is a virtual shoe-in, while Milan’s Mario Balotelli is likely to play the central role up front.

The Czech Republic, who have managed to score in only two of their five group games, will miss Watford striker Matej Vydra because of injury.

Having scored only six goals in their five games — half of Italy’s output, the Czechs may regret this absence the more that a brace from Vydra handed them a badly needed 3-0 win in Armenia in their last qualifier in March.

The victory saved the job for unpopular head coach Michal Bilek following a humiliating 3-0 home trashing by Denmark just five days earlier.

The Czechs will depend above all on Chelsea keeper Petr Cech and injury-prone Arsenal midfielder and team captain Tomas Rosicky.

“In our situation, we have to try to beat Italy,” Rosicky told reporters. “Experience shows that if people don’t give you any hope, it will turn out well,” he added.

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