Italy eye top seeding, vow to go all out against Norway

BAKU (Azerbaijan) • Italy manager Antonio Conte is keen for his side to complete their campaign with a win over Norway to give themselves the best chance of being top seeded, after they sealed their place at Euro 2016 on Saturday with 3-1 victory in Azerbaijan.

Striker Eder opened Italy's account and although Azerbaijan levelled through Dmitri Nazarov on the half hour, forward Stephan El Shaarawy restored Italy's advantage just before half-time.

Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian gave Italy some breathing space with a superb strike on 65 minutes.

Italy were rarely troubled for the remainder of the game, which Azerbaijan finished with 10 men following Sebastian Giovinco's sending-off.

The result stretched Italy's unbeaten run in European Championship and World Cup qualifiers to an unprecedented 49 matches.

MAIN PRIORITY

A positive result and being seeded top would be very important for us.

STEPHAN EL SHAARAWY, Italy forward

The Italians could still lose top spot in Group H, however, should Norway defeat them in Rome tomorrow. Similarly, a win in their final match would give Italy the best possible chance of guaranteeing that they are among the top seeds ahead of the tournament's draw in Paris in December.

"We absolutely want to go to Rome with the intention of getting all three points," Conte told the Italian Football Federation website.

"The factor regarding the top-seeded team is somewhat bizarre. Croatia (16th) are ahead of us (17th) in the Fifa rankings but we are ahead of them in the group standings. It's a system that I have difficulty understanding."

Norway, who beat Malta 2-0 at home, are currently second on 19 points, but could still drop into the play-offs following Croatia's 3-0 victory over Bulgaria.

Croatia have 17 points, and will be confident of beating the winless Maltese away tomorrow.

Should unbeaten Italy be seeded for the Euro 2016 group-stage draw, they will avoid the likes of hosts France, champions Spain, who beat them 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final, and England in the first round.

Ahead of Euro 2004, the Italians were not seeded and fell in the first round after finishing third in their group. "We are now expected to perform in the match that will enable us to finish top of the group," El Shaarawy said afterwards. "A positive result and being seeded top would be very important for us."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'Italy eye top seeding, vow to go all out against Norway'. Print Edition | Subscribe