Swe­den take a big first step

Jo­hans­son strike seals vic­tory and piles fur­ther pres­sure on un­der­per­form­ing Italy

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS -

Italy must beat Swe­den at San Siro on Mon­day to have any hope of qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup in Rus­sia af­ter Jakob Jo­hans­son con­demned the Az­zurri to a 1-0 first-leg de­feat in Stock­holm.

The four-time world cham­pi­ons risk miss­ing out on the sum­mer fi­nals for the first time since 1958 and this play­off re­sult piles fur­ther pres­sure on a side who strug­gled through­out the qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign.

Jo­hans­son’s sec­ond-half win­ner was helped into the net by the un­for­tu­nate Daniele De Rossi but Swe­den will not mind one bit as they now have the up­per hand ahead of the cru­cial fix­ture in Mi­lan.

Un­der no il­lu­sions about the strength of Italy’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to avoid the ig­nominy of fail­ing to reach the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, Swe­den kicked off in a suit­ably se­ri­ous mood.

There would be no shar­ing of the home com­forts at the Friends Arena as Ola Toivo­nen gave Leonardo Bonucci some early bother with an el­bow that left the AC Mi­lan de­fender writhing in pain.

With Swe­den press­ing hard, tricky winger Emil Fors­berg fired a free-kick over the cross­bar be­fore An­drea Belotti fluffed a header at the other end.

Fors­berg – a key el­e­ment in RB Leipzig’s re­mark­able rise to the top of the Bun­desliga – then cut in­side to tee up Toivo­nen for a low ef­fort that just skimmed Gian­luigi Buf­fon’s far post.

Cre­at­ing chances

Italy steadily got to grips with Swe­den’s phys­i­cal ap­proach and be­gan cre­at­ing chances of their own, Mat­teo Darmian find­ing An­to­nio Can­dreva only for the In­ter Mi­lan schemer to come up short.

Swe­den had the last word be­fore the break. Mar­cus Berg read Gior­gio Chiellini’s move­ment well to put Buf­fon in dif­fi­culty, but the 39-year-old goal­keeper was able to clear un­der heavy pres­sure.

His coun­ter­part Robin Olsen was called into ac­tion fol­low­ing the restart as Can­dreva and Marco Parolo tested his re­flexes but, just af­ter the hour mark, it was Swe­den who struck the opener.

Jo­hans­son, on as a sub­sti­tute for Al­bin Ek­dal, strode into the Italy box to put his foot through a headed lay-off. The ball veered past Buf­fon thanks in part to a help­ful de­flec­tion off De Rossi.

Italy were laid low, briefly,

Jakob Jo­hans­son of Swe­den cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing the only goal against Italy at Friends Arena. PHO­TO­GRAPH: CLAU­DIO VILLA/GETTY IM­AGES

but re­sponded pos­i­tively to the goal as Manch­ester United full-back Darmian hit a post with a long-range ef­fort.

The Az­zurri would en­joy plenty of the ball as time ticked away, but their head coach Gi­ampiero Ven­tura could not con­jure a tac­ti­cal switch that changed the out­come in the Swedish cap­i­tal.

SWE­DEN: Olsen, Krafth(Sv en sson,83m ins ), Lin del of, Granq vi st, Au­gust ins son, Cl a es son, Sebastian Lars son,Ek­dal(J oh ans son ,57 mins),Fo rs berg, To iv on en, Berg( The lin ,74 m ins ). Subs not used: Johns son, Jo­han Lars son, O ls son, Gu id et ti, He lan­der, J ans son, R oh den, Se ma, No rd feldt. Booked:Berg. ITALY: Buff on, Bar zag li, Bo nu cci,C hi elli ni, Can dr eva, De Rossi, Parolo,V err at ti( In­signe,76m ins ), Dar mi an, Im mo­bile, Be lot ti( Eder,65m ins ). Subs not used: Donna rum ma, Rug a ni, Gag li ar di ni, Florenzi,A st ori,Jorg in ho, Bernard es chi, Zappa costa, Gabbi a di ni, Per in. Booked: V err at ti. Ref­eree: Cu neyt Ca k ir( Turkey ).

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