Ciro Immobile

Florence (Italy), March 23 (IANS) Italy striker Ciro Immobile is expecting a tough battle against underdogs Albania in a 2018 football World Cup qualifier to be held in Palermo on Friday.

Four-time World Cup winners and current world No.15 Italy host world No.54 Albania in a qualifier for the 2018 World Cup. Spain and Italy lead Group G of the European qualifiers with 10 points each after four rounds.

“We’re studying them, they’re a team who played in the European Championship with good qualities and they’re well trained,” Immobile said, as posted on Italy’s football federation FIGC’s website on Wednesday.

“It won’t be a walk in the park, they’ll fight tooth and nail. We know that playing at 90 percent isn’t enough to win.”

The Lazio star also backed captain Gianluigi Buffon’s view that the national side has vastly improved with the inclusion of several young and talented players under the guidance of new head coach Gian Piero Ventura, who has been tasked to oversee a generation transition.

“Belief grew from September and we’re a more united team now. There have been improvements even if we’ve not spent much time together. If Buffon says that we’re a very strong team then who am I to contradict him?” he said.

Immobile will also be up against a club-mate in Thomas Strakosha. “I’ve spoken with him and he said that they’ll give us a tough time but we’ll give our all to beat them,” added Immobile.

Palermo is also a special place for the 27-year-old to play at. “I’m emotional about it because I’ve already played there twice with Italy and the atmosphere makes you feel at home,” he added.

“From when the anthem plays the stadium gives you energy. When I play at the Stadio Barbera my family always look to go.”

The Lazio forward also agreed with head coach Gian Piero Ventura about moving the start of the season to aid Italy’s preparation for the match with Spain on September 2.

“I agree with the coach, it’s an important year and everybody must understand that,” he went on.

“To prepare best for that match the start of the season needs to be moved, I don’t see what the problem is.”

This game comes just four days before the Azzurri will take on the Netherlands in a friendly scheduled for March 28 in Amsterdam.

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