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Italy among play-off hopefuls waiting to learn World Cup fate

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Italy’s Antonio Candreva celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during their FIFA 2018 World Cup qualification match against Albania, in Shkoder, on October 9, 2017 © AFP/File / Dimitar DILKOFF

LONDON, United Kingdom, Oct 17 – Italy will learn their World Cup play-off fate on Tuesday as the four-time winners join seven other European countries in the draw for the decisive two-legged ties.

Gian Piero Ventura’s side have been forced to take their chances in the treacherous play-offs after finishing second in their qualifying group behind Spain.

Italy, who last won the World Cup in 2006, are joined in the draw by fellow runners-up Switzerland, Croatia, Denmark, Northern Ireland, Sweden, the Republic of Ireland and Greece.

While the Azzurri are the most star-studded of the countries competing in the play-offs, several of their rivals for a place in next year’s finals in Russia also have intriguing tales.

Northern Ireland are within touching distance of a first World Cup berth since 1986 after Michael O’Neill’s men maintained the momentum from their successful qualification for Euro 2016.

The Republic of Ireland will hope to avoid a repeat of their agonising World Cup play-off defeat against France in 2009, when Thierry Henry’s controversial handball helped eliminate them.

Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka celebrates after scoring a goal during their FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier match against Hungary, at the St. Jakob-Park Stadium in Basel, on October 7, 2017 © AFP/File / Fabrice COFFRINI

The Republic last made the World Cup in 2002, but they survived the play-offs to reach the European Championships in 2012 and 2016.

Sweden, World Cup runners-up in 1958, finished behind France in their qualification group and are bidding to reach the finals for the first time since 2006.

The eight qualified teams have been divided into two pots based on the world rankings announced by FIFA on Monday.

Switzerland (11th), Italy (15th), Croatia (18th) and Denmark (19th) will be in pot one and will play one of the four teams in pot two.

The second pot will contain Northern Ireland (23rd), Sweden (25th), Republic of Ireland (26th) and Greece (47th).

The draw will take place at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters at 1200 GMT on Tuesday.

The first legs will be held between November 9-11 and the second legs between November 12-14.

The winner of each tie is decided by the aggregate number of goals each team scores over the two legs, while in the event of a draw on aggregate, the side with more away goals goes through.

If there is no deciding factor at the end of normal time, then the tie will go to extra time, with the away-goals rule still applicable at the end of that period.

If there is still no winner, then the tie will go to a penalty shoot-out.

The ties will determine who qualifies from Europe alongside group winners France, Portugal, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium and Iceland.

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