Entering the final month of the season, Juventus look poised to claim their third straight Serie A championship.
With many key Juventus members also on the Azzuri at World Cup 2014 in Brazil, Italians are hoping Juventus success breeds World Cup success.
Dominant in league play, 16-3-1 SU in their last 20 games, Juventus have fallen short in international competitions; finishing eighth in the International Champions Cup, and getting eliminated in the Group Stage of UEFA Champions League competition by Galatasaray.
Juventus’ most difficult test of the season may come this week, as they face Benefica in the UEFA Europa League semifinal. [ Serie A betting odds, matchup reports ]
While Juventus is a -220 favorite to get past Benefica and a -110 favorite to win the Europa League title, Italian soccer fans may be more concerned about the impact of Juventus veterans on the nation’s fortunes at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The Juventus roster currently includes as many as nine players who could don the Azzurro Savoia for Italy. Italy’s Juventus contingent is led by goalkeeper Gigi Buffon. Captain of both Juve and the Italian national team, Buffon was the hero of Italy’s 2006 World Cup win.
However, an injury limited Buffon to just 45 minutes of action in 2010, when the Italians entered the tourney at 14-1 but were eliminated in the Group Stage after failing to record a win.
Going into this year’s World Cup, Italy is positioned outside the group of favorites, sporting odds of 22-1 to win their fifth title. Italy’s World Cup effort will be bolstered by Juventus defenders Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, who was anointed as the world’s seventh best footballer in a recent Top 50 list.
Juventus will not be contributing any players pegged as favorites to lead the World Cup in goals scored. The only Italians sporting odds to be top scorer are Mario Balotelli of AC Milan at 33-1, Giuseppe Rossi of ACF Fiorentina at 66-1 and Alberto Gilardino of Genoa CFC at 80-1.
However, Juventus will be providing the services of one of the game’s best at free kicks. Nicknamed “l’architetto” (The Architect), Andrea Pirlo is also regarded as one of the best passers in the game.
Pirlo, who turns 35 in May, has one goal and three assists in two World Cup tournaments, and one goal and five assists in 10 World Cup qualifying matches dating back to last season.
For Italy’s odds to win the World Cup and updated future lines on all 32 nations taking part in Brazil 2014, check out WorldCupOdds.net.
This second leg in Zagreb is for all the marbles, as these two teams played to a scoreless draw in Reykjavík.
The Croats have not scored a goal in their last two qualifying matches and only two in their last four. They did play good defense in the first leg, but they do not want to see this tie go to a penalty shootout.
Croatia is the huge home favorite according to the soccer betting odds at Bovada this week, posted at -275 with Iceland at +1110 and a draw line of +375.
Iceland are the big underdogs in this second tie and while their offense mustered only four shots on goal and they were somewhat dominated in time of possession they have to come away with the match with some confidence.
Iceland not only held Croatia scoreless, but they did so with only 10 men with Olafur Ingi Skulason leaving in the 52nd minute with a red card.
[ See the Croatia vs Iceland matchup report with updated odds and trends ]
Iceland played had a great defensive scheme on Croat playmaker Luka Modric not giving him any space on the field. They must do that again in this second leg.
Neither team had a great scoring chance in the first 30 or so minutes, but look for that to change in Zagreb. The Croats will be on the attack much more and Iceland’s defense must play well.
Iceland G Hannes Thór Halldórsson made a few solid saves and his play will be key in this game, as Croatia will be attacking the from the opening whistle.
Iceland will have to deal with the crowd in Zagreb, which is one of the hostile places for visiting teams to come away with a win.