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Italy hit ahead of crucial WC qualifier

Italy have been hit by the withdrawal of three players from coach Roberto Mancini’s squad as they look to secure World Cup qualification against Northern Ireland on Monday.

Defenders Alessandro Bastoni, Cristiano Biraghi and Davide Calabria are all out of the match in Belfast, the Italian federation (FIGC) said on Saturday though Mancini has added Atalanta’s Davide Zappacosta to the squad.

Calabria has muscle problems and Bastoni, who was not named in the matchday squad for Friday’s 1-1 draw with Switzerland in Rome, has a groin issue according to the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. Biraghi has returned home for personal reasons.

The Azzurri top Group C only on goal difference from Switzerland, who host Bulgaria in their final game. Italy have scored 13 goals and conceded twice so far while the Swiss have an 11-2 record and could yet secure a direct place in Qatar next year.

Whoever finishes second in the group will enter the play-offs. Italy missed the 2018 World Cup having failed in the play-offs but bounced back under Mancini to win the delayed Euro 2020 in July.

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