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WORLD CUP

Chiellini aims to boost bruised Italy ahead of World Cup qualifier game

Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini is upbeat ahead of Italy's crucial 2018 World Cup qualifying game against Macedonia on Friday despite fears the team could miss out on the tournament.

Chiellini aims to boost bruised Italy ahead of World Cup qualifier game
Defender Giorgio Chiellini ahead of Friday's match against Macedonia. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The Azzurri are in a fragile state mentally and physically after a crushing defeat to Spain last month left them facing the prospect of having to go through the play-offs to book their ticket to Russia next year.

For Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio it would be an “apocalypse” not to reach the finals with Olympic committee chief Giovanni Malago evoking a “sporting tragedy” and coach Gian Piero Ventura a “catastrophe”.

“Unfortunately, there are highs and lows and people don't have to go over the top with what they say,” insisted Chiellini, who is set to earn his 93rd cap at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin.

“We have to ignore these voices. We'll face the play-offs with great confidence and respect for our opponents,” said Chiellini, adding that Friday's game would be “fundamental for morale”.

Italy are second in Group G behind Spain with their final qualifying game in Albania on Monday.

Only the group winner qualifies automatically, and the four-time world champions need only a point from the two matches to secure second place in the group and a spot in the play-offs.

It would take an incredible series of circumstances for Albania – six points adrift in third – to overtake the Italians.

In the group, Israel are fourth ahead of Macedonia and Liechtenstein.

For Ventura the objective is to boost confidence and their Fifa ranking for the play-offs and the World Cup draw in Moscow on December 1st.

“In the next two matches, we'll have to get the two points which will give us a better position in the play-off,” said Ventura.

“We're going on as we always do, against Israel we had to win, this obligation is always there for us.

“We're calm going into the game after one of the best weeks for work and preparation.”

Despite bringing in new blood to an ageing team since taking over a year ago, Ventura's side has been badly hampered by injury.

Five first choice players are absent in midfield – Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Claudio Marchisio and Riccardo Montolivo.

And top striker Andrea Belotti has been ruled out for a month and is also uncertain for the play-offs on November 9th and 14th.

FOOTBALL

Italy lose out to Dutch in bid to reach World Cup semi-finals

The Netherlands reached the semi-finals of the women's World Cup for the first time in their history on Saturday after beating Italy 2-0 in Valenciennes.

Italy lose out to Dutch in bid to reach World Cup semi-finals
Italy forward Valentina Giacinti is consoled after World Cup defeat. Photo: AFP

The Dutch will travel to Lyon to face one of Germany or Sweden, who play later in Rennes, in the last four thanks to fine headers from Vivianne Miedema and Stefanie van der Graght in the final 20 minutes.

The United States and England will face off in the other semi-final on Tuesday after the Americans beat France 2-1 in a pulsating encounter on Friday.

Both teams had complained about the scheduling of the match in the middle of the afternoon during a punishing early summer heatwave that is sweeping Europe.

However it was the Dutch who responded best to the on-pitch humidity, with temperatures creeping over 30 degrees Celsius, completely dominating the second half in an impressive display that will give the Germans and Swedes pause for thought.

The best chance of an error-strewn opening period fell to Italy's Valentina Bergamaschi, who found herself with enough time to bring down and finish Barbara Bonansea's flick on in the 18th minute but instead poked a weak half-volley straight at Sari van Veednendaal.

Bergamaschi then turned provider for the Italians seven minutes before the break, laying on Valentina Giacinti only to see her AC Milan teammate scuff a presentable opportunity wide.

The Dutch meanwhile struggled initially to get behind Italy's tenacious backline despite the Azzurre gifting them the ball on countless occasions.

They took control of the match up early in the second half however, with Lieke Martens twice forcing Italy goalkeeper Laura Giuliani into action and Miedema just failing to connect with Desiree Van Lunteren's fizzing low cross seven minutes after the break.

Danielle van de Donk then hit the bar just before the hour mark with a dipping effort before Sherida Spitse saw her powerful free-kick flick out off the post.

However Italy's luck ran out in the 70th minute when Spitse whipped in a perfect cross from the left flank that Miedema glanced home with her head to make it 61 goals in 80 international matches.

Italy wilted and 10 minutes later the Dutch sealed their place in the last four, Spitse again putting in a precision cross that van der Graght nodded home at the far post to end the discussion and Italy's dream run in France.

READ ALSO: Football World Cup: Can Sweden beat their 'damn German ghost'? 

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