Italy are unbeaten in their qualifying campaign so far, and put in an impressive performance to come back from two goals down to draw 2-2 in friendly match against Brazil last Friday. They are a point clear of second placed Bulgaria with a game in hand, while their hosts here, Malta, are rock bottom, having lost all four of their matches.
Cesare Prandelli will be without Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, with the Roma duo absent through suspension. Juventus' Claudio Marchisio will come into the midfield in place of De Rossi after he missed the friendly, whilst AC Milan's full-back Ignazio Abate is also available for selection. Stephan El Shaarawy is expected to start alongside Mario Balotelli after the former was omitted from the Brazil match.
The Italy coach has been flipping a coin between a 4-3-1-2 and a 4-3-3 for the most part, and could do so again here. Reports suggest he could select a starting eleven made up entire of bianconeri and rossoneri players, with Abate expected to displace Napoli's Christian Maggio at right-back, with his domestic teammate Mattia De Sciglio set to keep his position at left-back after debuting for the Azzurri against Brazil. However, should Prandelli make the decision to start Alessio Cerci again -- ahead of Emanuele Giaccherini -- there will be a Torino player on the field.
Malta haven't won a competitive match since they upset Hungary back in 2006. Playing that day -- but alas, not scoring -- was their all-time top scorer Michael Mifsud, who is expected to start again. However, he'll find it difficult to find the net, with Malta having only scored once in qualifying thus far. Another interesting note is that Malta's coach, Pietro Ghedin, knows the Italy team well, having been their assistant coach under Cesare Maldini, Dino Zoff and Giovanni Trapattoni.
These sides have met in Malta a couple of times before and on both occasions Italy have won, though not by much. In 1992 goals from Gianluca Vialli and Beppe Signori were enough for a 2-1 win, with their sole prior meeting on the Mediterranean archipelago being a 2-0 victory in 1986.
Match Date/Time: Tuesday 26th March 2013 8:45 p.m. local, 3:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Ta'Qali National Stadium, Malta
TV: Rai Uno (Italy) RAI Internazionale, ESPN3 (U.S.)