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Italy must battle Blazers without hamstrung Mario Balotelli

Italy have never beaten Croatia since they gained independence from Yugoslavia, and that worrying statistic will give Antonio Conte cause for concern.

The Azzurri are still 6/5 favourites with Coral, however, to belie that history, despite three of the five goals they have scored in Euro 2016 qualifying so far coming from defenders.

Like Italy, Croatia have made a perfect start in their bid to reach the France finals with three wins out of three. Blazers boss Niko Kovac comes into this off the back of a tough examination by and loss to Argentina in friendly action. He did not show his hand there, however.

Croatia fielded a second string for that Upton Park encounter, and now travel to the San Siro with their first XI rested and ready to face an evolving Azzurri outfit. Odds of 11/4 on an away win are, therefore, very tempting indeed.

With Andrea Pirlo nursing a hip problem and understudy Marco Verratti also out injured, Conte has to decide whether Lazio creator Antonio Candreva is capable of moving infield to take over playmaking duties.

Like counterpart Kovac, the Italy coach was a central midfielder himself, and that engine room battle may hold the key to this encounter. If the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic cancel out Daniele De Rossi, on the occasion of his 100th cap, and Claudio Marchisio, then the 21/10 odds for a draw must be considered.

Maverick Azzurri forward Mario Balotelli picked up a hamstring problem in training, so misses this match. The scoring burden falls to an ensemble cast who have just a dozen caps between them.

Late bloomer Graziano Pelle netted on his Italy debut against Malta last time out, and is 6/4 to do so again anytime here. Borussia Dortmund summer signing Ciro Immobile is shorter in that market at 5/4, with the best value on Sassuolo star Simone Zaza (7/4).

Punters should not discount De Rossi marking his century milestone with a goal either. Odds of 11/2 say he will add to 16 international strikes against Croatia.

From the Blazers’ perspective, this is a match where Kovac will surely send out his experienced attackers. Ivica Olic is also earning cap 100, and his work rate and rash-like presence around defenders has not diminished despite being 35 now.

It’s 2/1 this grafter grabs a 20th international goal anytime and, like strike partner Mario Mandzukic (7/4), Olic has netted against the Azzurri before.

Conte’s back three and wing backs Matteo Darmian and Mattia De Sciglio will have their work cut out for them marking this pair and winger Ivan Perisic, who has two goals in qualifying. Odds of 11/4 say he will score again here.

While Coral offer a matchday special on an Italy win to nil with enhanced odds of 5/2 (max stake £20), this is a bet best avoided as Croatia themselves have earned all of their qualifying victories so far without conceding.

This will be a close contest, not least because both sides look evenly matched. A repeat result from the Azzurri’s last clash with Croatia at Euro 2012, a 1-1 draw, looks a superb scoreline shout at 11/2.