ROME • Barring major surprises in their final two matches, Italy should finish as Group G runners-up behind Spain in the European World Cup qualifiers.
Nevertheless, the uncertainty of whether they will be among the eight runners-up that will make up the European play-offs has fans and media on edge in the country.
The Azzurri are three points behind leaders Spain - with the Spaniards having a superior goal difference of 17 over the Italians and with relatively easy matches against Albania and Israel to come.
Italy need to perform well against Macedonia in Turin tomorrow and in Monday's trip to Albania.
Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has described the possibility of the four-time champions not qualifying as "the Apocalypse".
He even suggested that Fifa should change the rules so that a team's past record is taken into account during the qualifiers - though he did not elaborate on how this would work.
"It's not right that they don't take into account the four world titles, it goes against history," he said.
Barring the inaugural World Cup in 1930, which they did not enter, Italy have appeared at every tournament except in 1958 when they were squeezed out by Northern Ireland.
Coach Giampiero Ventura said it would be a "catastrophe" if Italy failed to qualify for Russia.
"If we did not qualify, it would be a catastrophe," he said at a press conference. "But I'm not thinking about the play-off games. First there are matches against Macedonia and Albania, then we'll see who we meet."
His squad has been weakened by the absence of midfielders Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Pellegrini and striker Andrea Belotti , who were injured in domestic league action last weekend.
Midfield stalwart Daniele de Rossi was named in the squad despite suffering a knee injury but has since returned to Roma for further treatment.
"Most recently our starters in midfield were Daniele de Rossi and Marco Verratti, and the first reserve was Lorenzo Pellegrini," Ventura said. "All three will be missing, but whoever plays will hopefully prove themselves to be an important resource for the national team.
"As for Andrea Belotti, we did Torino a favour by not bringing him (for centralised training)."
Roberto Gagliardini was already named as cover for de Rossi. Atalanta's Bryan Cristante, named in the squad for the first time, is the other midfield option.
"Unfortunately every so often it happens that one area is affected... we have to try to stay positive," said Marco Parolo, the only experienced midfielder left in the Italy squad.
"Our aim remains to improve and qualify. Getting to the World Cup is an obligation for us."