The words “world” and “cup” are ones that most Italian football supporters have been staunchly avoiding since the disastrous play off defeat to Sweden last November. But time is a healer, and six months later, the tears have been dried, the recriminations made and it would be ridiculous to suppose that a nation that so loves its football will not be turning its eyes to Russia in the weeks to come.
For the love of the game
It will be a strange experience, but it is not one that is entirely negative. England fans found a strange sense of freedom as they tuned in watch Euro 2008 after England had failed to qualify. It gave them the opportunity to simply enjoy the football and perhaps choose their own team to back on the basis of bookmaker odds and form, but without the added stress of being too emotionally involved in the outcome. Italy fans will, without doubt, be taking the same approach and checking out the World Cup 2018 page for the same reason. They can even keep up with the latest news and views on the prospects for the various teams via this live stream on Twitch TV. But which team will they be supporting? Here are some likely contenders.
There is a strange affinity between the Azzurri and Argentina. Perhaps it is because so many Argentinian footballers have played in Serie A over the years. Diego Maradona was an adopted son of Napoli, and more recently there have been the likes of Icardi and Higuain.
On top of that, there is the feeling that Messi deserves world cup glory. He’s a legend of the game, and has immense popularity across Italy and the world. His hat trick in the recent friendly against Haiti certainly shows he is up for the task, and after the match, he said Argentina will “go to Russia with hope.”
It’s been 32 years since they won in Spain, but bookmakers have them as the “most likely outsider” to win, quoting them at around 10/1, behind the front runners Brazil, Germany, France and Spain.
Plenty of Italian fans feel that Belgium could pull off a surprise. There is something about the way that Belgium plays its football that appeals to Italian sensibilities. The team is young, talented and fearless, with great players who have worldwide popularity, such as Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens.
For a team that invariably promises much, it is surprising that when they made it to the quarter finals in 2014, that was the first time they had progressed beyond the round of 16. Bookmakers are taking the Belgian threat seriously, and have them ranked just below Argentina but above England – most are offering odds of around 11/1.
Who doesn’t like a dark horse? Iceland will be playing in their first ever World Cup, but after their giant-killing antics at Euro 2016, they won plenty of friends among the impartial observers. That is exactly what Italian fans will be this year, and they will also have plenty of respect for this tiny nation succeeding to get through the qualifiers.
Make no mistake, they have a tough challenge ahead, with Argentina and Croatia expected to dominate Group D. But if any team can pull off an upset, we know they are well capable. They play Argentina first up, and while that might be a challenge too far, the showdown with Croatia could prove decisive. Bookmakers are offering odds of 4/1 to anyone who thinks Iceland can make it to the knockout stages, and 16/1 to make the quarter finals.
Enjoy the World Cup
The World Cup only comes around every four years, and is the biggest showcase event in the football calendar. Even if your home nation isn’t playing, it’s a great opportunity to get behind a team, so enjoy Russia 2018.