Monday 21 August 2017

Shot-shy Swedes on the brink as Italy underline special qualities

Italy 1 Sweden 0

Leonardo Bonucci (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Leonardo Bonucci (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Glenn Moore

Two games, two clean sheets, qualification assured. It's job done for Antonio Conte, with the Azzurri easing once more towards the serious end of a major tournament.

However, if they are to make any impact in the knockout stages, they will need to play much, much better than this.

Sweden's forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (R) vies with Italy's defender Leonardo Bonucci (Photo PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Sweden's forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (R) vies with Italy's defender Leonardo Bonucci (Photo PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Eder's brilliant 88th-minute goal was out of keeping with a dire match, but after some group stage embarrassments in recent years, the Italians will be simply relieved to get through.

For their part, Sweden will be going home early unless they beat Belgium in Nice on Wednesday.

To do so they will surely have to manage a shot on target - something they have failed to do so far in two matches (their goal against Republic of Ireland was an own goal).

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is finding this level of competition much harder than bullying Ligue 1 with Paris St Germain, and no-one else looks like scoring, either.

Leonardo Bonucci towers over John Guidetti to win a header (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Leonardo Bonucci towers over John Guidetti to win a header (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

If matches were won by supporters Sweden would have romped home, their yellow-shirted hordes massively outnumbering and outshouting the Azzurri support.

Exported

Indeed, swathes of the nominally Italian section were wearing yellow without any hint of trouble. Italy may have a domestic problem with hooliganism but it is rarely exported.

The massed Swedes almost had something to shout about as early as the third minute as Kim Kallstrom (Arsenal's invisible transfer window signing of 2014) crossed the ball deep towards Ibrahimovic but Giorgio Chiellini made a brave clearing header.

That, however, was pretty much it for meaningful first-half goalmouth action.

The game slowly picked up pace in the second half as both teams realised the other was there for the taking, but aside from an overdue caution for Daniele de Rossi there was still no incident of note until Ibrahimovic missed a 72nd-minute sitter. The Swede wasn't to know as he failed to connect with the ball that he had been flagged offside.

Emanuele Giaccherini is held back by Albin Ekdal (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Emanuele Giaccherini is held back by Albin Ekdal (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

There were eight minutes left when Emanuele Giaccherini curled a cross in from the left and Marco Parolo rose at the far post and headed the ball on to the bar.

That seemed to wake Italy up. Six minutes later Chiellini, leaving his own half for maybe the only time, took a quick throw-in which Simone Zaza flicked on into the path of Eder.

The Sampdoria striker had been anonymous, but now he smashed his name into the headlines, bursting past a series of ineffectual tackles before lashing the ball inside Andreas Isaksson's far post.

Eder nearly grabbed a second, bringing a sharp save from Isaksson, before Italy closed the game out, surviving a penalty appeal when Andreas Granqvist fell theatrically in the box.

Next they play Ireland. With qualification gained Martin O'Neill will hope Conte rests a few players. (© Independent News Service)

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