Russia 2018 Playoffs (UEFA): Italy Handed Tough Sweden Test; Home Nations Get Tricky Opponents

4-time world champions Italy have been handed a tough draw in the shape of Sweden in their bid to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

The Italians found out about their opposition for the playoffs after the draw was conducted by Real Madrid and Spanish legend Fernando Hierro in Zurich earlier on Thursday.

Sweden finished ahead of the Netherlands in Group A to qualify for the playoffs and will provide a stern test for Giampaolo Ventura and his boys.

Still staying with the draw, the home nations namely Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland also got respective tricky tests in the playoffs.

Northern Ireland will play Switzerland in their bid to qualify for the first time since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The first leg will be at Windsor Park in Belfast before  the return leg in Switzerland.

The Republic of Ireland shocked rivals Wales to qualify for the playoffs and they have been drawn against Denmark. The fourth and final playoff tie will see Croatia and Greece battle one another for a spot in Russia.

The first legs will be played between 9 and 11 November with the second legs scheduled for  between 12 and 14 November.

Reacting to the draw, Northern Ireland boss O’Neill was quite optimistic about his side’s chances. In his words, he said:

“The most important thing is we don’t concede an away goal. We’ll be prepared for Belfast. We’ve only lost one game there in four years.

“We knew it was going to be difficult. They’ve had a good campaign, but we have a big opportunity to get to Russia. We know we’ll have to be at our best but we believe we’re good enough to do that.” he added.

Speaking about the draw, Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill was pleased with the outcome,  he said:

“Naturally, we’re just pleased to be in the draw. Being unseeded means it was always going to be a difficult tie.

“If you ask most coaches, you want the second game at home. But with the rules like extra time, it gives the away team that chance to score in 120 minutes.

“We have momentum and that’s important. We won our last two games to get here. I’m now concerned with the next couple of weeks and making sure my players don’t get injuries at club level.” he concluded.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place from June 14 to July 15.