Head coach Giampiero Ventura is expecting Italy’s World Cup qualifier with Albania to be tough and pivotal to be their hopes of automatic qualification (Italy 2/1 – Group G Winners).

The Azzurri will welcome Shqiponjat to Palermo’s Stadio Renzo Barbera in March sitting second in the group standings but level on 10 points with table-topping Spain.

Israel are third just a point behind, while Albania have six and are still in with a shout of reaching Russia.

The Italians have won three and drawn one of their games to date, with a 1-1 home draw against La Roja seeing them keep pace with the 2010 World Cup winners.

They put four past Liechtenstein last time out and pulled off a 3-2 win away from home against Macedonia the game before, but have yet to face Albania.

Ventura is clearly wary of his side’s next opponents and feels taking all three points is vital if they want to finish on top of the pile (Italy 16/1 – World Cup Outright).

“We expect the most difficult match of the group and the most important of the two-year campaign,” he said. “If we don’t beat Albania, it would become very difficult to win the group – not even winning in Spain would be enough.”

Palermo’s ground, also known as La Favorita, has been kind to Italy in the past, with 11 wins and a draw from 13 fixtures played at the Sicilian venue, and the coach hopes that the stadium and supporters can be the nation’s 12th man on the day.

“The help of the fans will be essential,” added Ventura. “I’d like to see the stadium full that day. When I came to this stadium as a coach I was always greeted with difficulty because the stadium was packed.”

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odds subject to change