Sweden 1-0 Italy: Italy in danger of missing World Cup
SOLNA, Sweden (AP):
Four-time champion Italy was left at serious risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades after losing at Sweden 1-0 in the opening leg of their playoff yesterday.
Substitute Jakob Johansson scored shortly after the hour mark with a shot from the edge of the area that deflected in off Daniele De Rossi. After a long throw-in, Ola Toivonen headed the ball out to Johansson and his deflected drive wrong-footed goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon for his first international goal.
The Azzurri created few chances at Friends Arena outside Stockholm and were fortunate not to concede more goals after allowing Sweden a series of free kicks early on.
Italy's best opportunity was a long effort from Matteo Darmian that squarely hit the post in the 70th. The Azzurri's only other significant chance was a header from Andrea Belotti six minutes in.
Sweden imposed itself with its physicality and playmaker Emil Forsberg proved especially dangerous with his passing skills, setting up numerous opportunities.
Early in the second half, Italy became outraged at Sweden's physicality, protesting for yellow cards at perceived excessive contact. But Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir said to play on.
Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura wanted the referee to intervene more.
"But that's not a justification," Ventura said. "A draw was the minimum we could hope for considering what happened on the pitch."
Making matters more complicated for Italy was that creative midfielder Marco Verratti picked up a yellow card that will rule him out of the return match on Monday at Milan's San Siro.
"We need to learn from the mistakes we made tonight," Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci said. "I'm expecting a great match at the San Siro and for Italy to go to the World Cup. We've got to play the match of our lives."