Sweden just did the unthinkable. The Scandinavian side entered the second leg of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying Playoff tie against Italy with a 1-0 lead on the aggregate score, and surprisingly held on for a 0-0 draw that clinched them a berth in Russia’s tournament next year.
Italy looked dominant at times, but they failed to penetrate the opposing defence and those problems have prevented them from keeping a World Cup appearance streak alive. The last time they failed to qualify was in 1958, so this is clearly a disappointing result for one of the most successful countried in the entire world.
Italy Dominated The First Half Despite Their Lack Of Accuracy
Sweden got off to a better start, but Italy looked much better right from the start. Sweden should have gotten a penalty quite early in the first half when Matteo Darmian deliberately handballed inside the box in the 13rd minute, but referee Antonio Mateu denied the appeals. A similar situation happened in the 29th minute when a pass from Emil Forsberg bounced off Marco Parolo’s arm, but once again Mateu did not blow the whistle.
Italy had a decent amount of chances, though. The first one came in the 16th minute when Ciro Immobile sneaked into the box but his shot when wide from a tight angle. The Lazio star generated another clear opportunity ten minutes later, but this time he appeared on the left side of the box. He attempted a low cross towards the middle of the goal but Antonio Candreva could not reach the ball when Sweden’s goalkeeper Robin Olsen was completely out of the sequence.
Immobile had one last chance for Italy nearing the end of the first half. He received a long pass from midfield and struck a shot past Olsen, but a defender appeared at the last minute to deny Italy’s quest for the opening goal. The first half ended with a scoreless draw, but there is no question Italy did enough to deserve better luck in the opening 45 minutes.
Italy Pushing Up Tempo, Create More Chances In Second Half
The second half continued with Italy playing with a positive attitude, while Sweden sat back and quickly adopted a counter-attacking approach. Giampiero Ventura’s men tried to attack through the flanks, but their moves did not pay off and struggled to create chances on a consistent basis. The first real sequence came in the 56th minute, when Giorgio Chiellini shot from the edge of the box but Olsen parried the ball with ease. Italy did not back down, though, and they kept pushing the ball forward.
Antonio Candreva tested Olsen from long range as well, but his effort was deflected and the ball went wide. Knowing Italy had to score at least once in the final 30 minutes, Ventura sent Stephan El Shaarawy and Andrea Belotti into the pitch in an effort to crowd the attacking third. The move paid off almost immediately, as Immobile – who else? – came close to score when a first-time effort went a bit wide.
Italy Kept Fighting, But Sweden Held On And Pulled The Upset
The entrances of Belotti and El Shaarawy woke Italy up and they played most of the remaining minutes on Sweden’s half. But even though they had several crosses into the box and a few decent shots on target, they lacked accuracy in the final meters. To make things even more complicated, Sweden realised they could create havoc on the counter and threatened Italy on the open field. Forsberg had a decent chance, but could not strike the ball cleanly when the visitors somehow build a 4-on-3 attacking sequence.
Italy had lots of chances to even the score. Candreva from long range, Alessandro Florenzi from a tight angle, and Immobile with a header all tried to find the back of the net, but unsuccessfully. El Shaarawy probably had the best chance with a shot that Olsen was parried away beautifully in the 87th minute, and a header from Marco Parolo one minute afterwards went wide as well. However, they could not penetrate Sweden’s stout defense and stellar goalkeeping. And the Scandinavian pulled a huge upset, advancing to the 2018 FIFA World Cup while eliminating Italy in what has to be one of the biggest, most shocking results in the FIFA World Cup Qualifying history.
Italy had lots of chances on both games, but their inaccuracies in the final third prevented them from securing a win in a tie where they looked far better at least on paper. Meanwhile Sweden should be quite happy with what they did. Despite the fact they were dominated and outmatched through most of the second half, it’s not easy to keep two straight clean sheets against Italy. Their play didn’t impress, but they definitively deserved to advance.
As for Italy, it will be time to make changes. But those will come for the near future. Right now, they must analyse what they did wrong. Because such a big country simply can’t fail to qualify for the World Cup like they did this time.
Italy: Buffon (6); Barzagli (6), Bonucci (7), Chiellini (7); Candreva (5) (Bernardeschi (-), 76′), Florenzi (7), Jorginho (7), Parolo (6), Darmian (5) (El Shaarawy (6), 63′); Gabbiadini (4) (Belotti (6), 63′), Immobile (6)
Sweden: Olsen (8); Lustig (5), Lindelöf (6), Granqvist (7), Augustinsson (5); Claesson (6) (Rohden (-), 72′), Johansson (5) (Svensson (6), 19′), Larsson (7), Forsberg (5); Toivonen (5) (Thelin (5), 54′), Berg
Referee: Antonio Mateu (Spain)
Yellow Cards: Chiellini (9′), Johansson (10′), Barzagli (22′), Forsberg (29′), Claesson (66′), Thelin (69′)
Red Cards: None
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