On paper Italy should prevail when they continue their Group C campaign in Northern Ireland on Friday. The Azzurri have already beaten Estonia and the Faroe Islands under Cesare Prandelli – and overcame the Northern Irish 3-0 in Pisa in June 2009 – but Italy's new coach will know the hosts have a habit of upsetting the odds. Elsewhere, Vladimir Petrović makes his bow as Serbia coach.
Northern Ireland v Italy, Belfast
Although Northern Ireland have not qualified for a major finals since 1982, their home record is formidable with eight victories in their last 11 qualifiers. They have already produced one surprise in the group by winning in Slovenia and manager Nigel Worthington said: "There have been many challenges at Windsor Park over the years and Northern Ireland have always stood up to the test." Most notably, perhaps, when they beat the Azzurri 2-1 in Belfast en route to the 1958 FIFA World Cup. Italy will provide a serious examination, having not lost an away qualifier since September 2006. Prandelli recalled the experienced Gianluca Zambrotta and Stefano Mauri, yet insists he will not "give up my plan" of developing a youthful Italy. As for Northern Ireland, Worthington brought in Andrew Little after Pat McCourt pulled out.
Serbia v Estonia, Belgrade
New coach Petrović's first task is to take three points off Estonia. It took a late Nikola Žigić goal to hold Slovenia in Serbia's first home qualifier and Petrović will demand better against Tarmo Rüütli's men who needed two injury-time strikes to beat the Faroe Islands before losing to Italy. Petrović has made three changes from Radomir Antić's last squad – restoring Marko Lomić and Vladimir Stojković and introducing Slobodan Rajković – and said: "I don't want to make wholesale changes but it's possible I will move a few players around." Estonia have won one of their last 11 away trips. "A point in Belgrade would be a great result, but we're not playing for a draw," said Rüütli, who is without his country's all-time leading scorer Andres Oper. "It won't do us any good. We'll try to attack."
Slovenia v Faroe Islands, Ljubljana
Matjaž Kek wants maximum points from Slovenia's match at the new Stozice Stadium and the subsequent visit to Estonia as his side play catch-up after losing to Northern Ireland and drawing in Serbia. Kek recovers Nejc Pečnik from injury and calls on three new faces – Jan Koprivec, Matija Škarabot and Haris Vučk – to face a Faroes squad featuring 40-year-old goalkeeper Jákup Mikkelsen. He has come out of international retirement to replace injured Gunnar Nielsen. Coach Brian Kerr also welcomes back Jónhard Frederiksberg and Pauli G Hansen as the islanders chase a first away point since October 2004.
A preview of the next set of fixtures in Group C on Tuesday – Faroe Islands v Northern Ireland, Estonia v Slovenia, and Italy v Serbia – will be published at the weekend.
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