PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - European Championship runners-up Italy travel to the Czech capital for a crunch game in Group B. Italy win and they can think about booking their accommodation in Rio next year and defeat for the Czechs will leave their chances of a playoff spot hanging by the slimmest of threads.
Italy sit top of the group with four wins a draw and the bookmakers make them favourites for another three points - although their price has been eased ever so slightly. BetVictor and Paddy Power offer an industry best of 2.20 on an Azzurri win. The Czechs, who need at least a point to remain competitive in the group, are chalked up at 3.75 outsiders with BetVictor. Finally the draw can be backed at 3.25 with most firms.
Cesar Prandelli made the bold move of naming his starting XI 24 hours before kick off. Which is great news for punters. Buffon - Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini - Montolivo, De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio - Balotelli, El Shaarawy will start the game this evening and, on first inspection, it looks a very strong line up with perhaps De Sciglio not starting at LB the only surprise.
If everything clicks into place then the strike duo of Balotelli and El Shaarawy is potentially the most lethal in Europe. Balotelli's prowess in front of goal has been well documented - 12 goals in 13 games for AC Milan is an incredible return.
The former Manchester City striker has only featured twice in the World Cup qualifiers but he has scored three goals (2 against Malta and 1 against Denmark) and BetVictor offer a standout price of 2.60 on Balotelli to score anytime - it's an excellent price as he can be found odds on elsewhere. Snap it up before it disappears.
The Czech Republic can be an unpredictable beast at times. A 1-0 quarter final exit to Portugal in European Championships last summer holds no shame but every time they seem to take a step forwards they go two steps back. Seemingly in a good position in Group B they fluffed their lines with a limp 3-0 home defeat to Denmark, who at the time, were struggling for any kind of result.
The good news for the Czech Republic is the return of Tomáš Rosický. The 32 year-old midfielder maybe on the periphery at Arsenal but he remains a central figure for his country. But he will have his work cut out against a very strong Italian midfield.
However, the Czech's will be missing the Championship player of the year Matěj Vydra. The Watford loanee plundered 22 league goals and scored a brace for the National team in a 3-0 over Armenia last time out. Sparta Prague striker Václav Kadlec looks set to fill the void on the right side of attack and the 4.50 on offer for Kadlec to score anytime with Paddy Power is tempting, but it would be a marginal call.
It won't be a comfortable evening for the Italians but I expect them to prevail with three points. Italy to win 2-0 and 2-1 look the best bets in the correct score market - BetVictor offer 10/1 on each score line and I would recommend dutching the pair.
The game kicks off at 19:45 B.S.T on Friday 7th June 2013 and is live on bet365 streaming.
Mark Smith's bet on this game: 2pts on Mario Balotelli to score anytime at 2.60 with BetVictor.
Mark Smith's bet on this game: 0.5pt on Italy to win 2-0 at 11.00 with BetVictor
Mark Smith's bet on this game: 0.5pt on Italy to win 2-1 at 11.00 with BetVictor