The United States travel to Genoa on Wednesday to face a resurgent Italy side who will line up without Mario Balotelli.
Cesare Prandelli’s maxim – refusing to call up players with disciplinary problems – will not unduly trouble the former Fiorentina manager, as he announced on Tuesday that he would go for an experimental side, including the likes of Angelo Ogbonna in defence, Antonio Nocerino in midfield and Alessandro Matri in attack.
Italy are odds-on at 11/20 to win this one (the draw is a 27/10 shot) and not because the USA have never beaten them in ten attempts, which would be to miss the point entirely.
What will matter is whether Stars and Stripes boss Jurgen Klinsmann can adapt his attack-minded philosophy to suit this game.
In his last visit to Italy as the Mannschaft’s manager, a few months before the 2006 World Cup, Germany shipped in four goals as Marcello Lippi’s Azzurri opened the scoring after a mere three minutes.
My belief is that, despite the bombast shown in Tuesday’s press conference, the German will opt for a slightly more cautious approach, as his side’s defensive frailties are still too much of a variable to be ignored.
In last year’s win against Slovenia, for example, Carlos Bocanegra disingenuously allowed himself to be drawn out of position while the predatory Tim Matavz made a run on goal on his way to a brace.
The USA are still a team in transition and will want to avoid a repeat of last year’s home friendly against Spain, which Bob Bradley thought might toughen up his troops before the Gold Cup. That, or see them mowed down within half an hour in an eventual 4-0 defeat.
My belief is that, despite the bombast shown in Tuesday’s press conference, Klinsmann will opt for a slightly more cautious approach, as his side’s defensive frailties are still too much of a variable to be ignored.
For all his efforts in shoring up the defence, Klinsmann won’t be able to keep out the Azzurri forever, which is why Italy are strong favourites to win.
For punters willing to give themselves a fighting chance of making a profit on this outcome, an Italy win despite a 0-1 handicap looks tempting at 13/10.
Though Prandelli’s side can be counted on to net twice (exactly two goals for Italy is at 23/10), it would be wise not to get drawn into betting on a goalrush.
Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano’s long-term absences have forced Prandelli to try out various other attacking options and he has yet to work out the formula he plans to take to Euro 2012.
On Wednesday, he will give Matri a chance, though the problem is that, as Gabriele Marcotti put it recently, the Juventus man needs at least four or five chances before he finally buries one.
Moreover, the same Bocanegra/Goodison pairing which conceded two against Slovenia (a game which the USA won anyway, 3-2) held well against France in Paris, only allowing Loic Remy to bag the winner 18 minutes from time.
Prandelli’s choices are no doubt justified, but his team remains an untested one nonetheless. It is far from certain whether Nocerino will adapt to his manager’s 4-3-1-2, as he is hardly a conventional playmaker.
Were he to struggle, Italy will need to rely on Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio to keep the ball moving, knowing full well that the Azzurri will suffer from their lack of width in midfield.
Therefore, at 11/5, I would back Italy to win in a game which contains two goals or less. The typical second-half flurry of substitutions will likely kill the game off anyhow, meaning both sides only really have 60-70 minutes on the pitch to prove what they can achieve as a unit.
Punters joining bwin.com can claim a free £25 bet and placing this on Italy to win a game of under 2.5 goals will pocket returns of £80 if successful.
One final thought on the USA – who are 11/2 outsiders in the 3Way football betting market – and their decent chances of finding the back of the net themselves at decent odds of 31/20.
Though he is highly-rated, it will be hard for Ogbonna to gel with Andrea Barzagli, especially when faced with a high-tempo player like Clint Dempsey, not to mention FC Dallas’ Brek Shea.
If the latter gets a starting berth down the left, he could cause Mattia Cassani all sorts of problems, as one of the MLS’ most valuable youth products gets a chance to prove his worth on the global stage.
New customers can register here to claim a free £25 bet or click here to see all our international friendly odds.
Follow us on Twitter @bwinbetting