Ireland face the mighty Azzurri in their quest to reach the World Cup playoffs

Republic of Ireland v Italy, World Cup qualifier, October 10, 2009

Republic of Ireland 21/10; Draw 7/4; Italy 13/10

World Champions Italy head to Ireland knowing that a point will secure qualification to South Africa where Marcello Lippi and his charges can start dreaming of producing the heroics of Germany 2006.

Giovanni Trappattoni stands in the way of his countrymen and if Ireland can secure a famous victory they would be just a point off Italy going into what would be a fascinating last match day of qualification. To wrap up all the relevant background information on Group 8, Ireland face Montenegro and Italy Cyprus, both at home, on the final day of qualifying next Wednesday.

Without truly ever looking like they are the best team in world football, Italy have dominated the group. Never was this more clearly illustrated than the 2-0 win over Georgia in September when Italy negotiated a tricky away tie thanks to two own goals from Kakha Kaladze.

Lippi’s current side relies on many of the players that succeeded so memorably in 2006. The spine of the team with Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro (suspended for this match), Andrea Pirlo (4/1 to score) and Gennaro Gattusso remains and despite all reaching the end of their careers, there is no reason they cannot lay the foundations for the forward players in the side.

It remains a mystery as to why Lippi continues to shun Antonio Cassano and it is clear from his regular displays of impetuousness that Mario Balotelli is not ready for full international football. Yet, the likes of Daniele De Rossi (33/1 to score a brace), Giuseppe Rossi (11/1 to score first & Italy win) and Fabio Quagliarella can provide the injection of youth and hard running that could be crucial to win a successive tournament.

Ireland will also have to be wary of attacking full backs Fabio Grosso and Gianluca Zambrotta, Mauro Camoranesi, another throw back to 2006 and the in-form striker in Serie A at the current time, Udinese veteran Antonio Di Natale (11/2 to score first).

Ireland need to win and with the vociferous home support behind them they could well produce another upset on the international stage. Their qualifying form has been decent but two draws with Bulgaria and one with Montenegro look to have sent them to the lottery of a play-off, made that little bit harder by FIFA’s decision to add a seeding system which undoubtedly helps the bigger teams.

Last April, Trappatoni’s side produced an excellent performance to eke out a 1-1 draw in Italy thanks to a late Robbie Keane (2/1 to score) goal. The Spurs hitman alongside Kevin Doyle (8/1 to score first) makes a good strike pairing and with a solid defence the Irish should feel they have a real chance against anyone.

The problems for Ireland are in midfield where the trio of Damien Duff, Darron Gibson and Steven Reid, all pulled out earlier this week. Much will depend on Aiden McGeady (11/2 to score) and Stephen Hunt (one of Hull’s best performers this season) to create the chances for Doyle and Keane.

It won’t be easy, but Ireland have some world class performers, Shay Given (Ireland are 9/4 to keep a clean sheet) in particular is making a case to be Manchester City’s most important players so far this season. Italy are not the team they were but in true Azzurri fashion, will probably do just enough to ensure qualification.

101gg predicts: Republic of Ireland 1 – Italy 1 (9/2)

Republic of Ireland 21/10; Draw 7/4; Italy 13/10

Full match odds here.