Italy and Sweden met today in a game that could have a huge bearing on Ireland’s chances of getting out of the group. Ideally Italy would win the game securing their progression into the knock out stages and rest a couple of their better players when we face them on Wednesday.
The Italian’s defensive display in the Belgium game coupled with the fact that the Swedes failed to muster a single effort on target when we faced them suggested Erik Hamren’s men may be up against it. However in the first half an hour the Swedes showed more drive than they did in 90 minutes against us. They snapped into tackles in midfield and carried the ball forward at every opportunity, they still couldn’t breach the Italian back line.
The talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic struggled to have any real influence on the game, perhaps the Italians felt keeping him quiet would nullify Sweden’s goal threat completely. It certainly worked in a first half where neither side managed to create a clear goal scoring chance. You sensed that the Italian’s were playing with the handbrake on and may force the issue a bit more in the second half.
The second half started with more attacking intent from both sides but very little quality in the final third from Sweden in particular. The game was opening up with the Italian’s looking the most likely to break the deadlock.
Sweden’s lack of quality in the final third, particularly from the wide areas, showed why they have had to rely so heavily on Zlatan in recent years. The big man was somewhat anonymous today, having to drop deep to receive the ball and often suffering a heavy first touch due in no small part to the close attention he was receiving from the Italian defenders. The one time he managed to elude his captors to get on the end of a cross to the far post he missed an open goal. As he banged his head off the goalpost in frustration he will have been relieved to see the linesman had already flagged him offside.
Going into the last ten minutes the Italians went close when Marco Parolo headed onto the crossbar after peeling off at the far post to meet a peach of a cross from Emanuele Giaccherini.
The game ignited into a bit more life in the closing stages and Italy finally made their pressure count through an excellent solo effort from Brazilian born Eder. The industrious winger cut in from the left hand side before expertly finishing into the bottom corner.
It wasn’t the most expansive performance from Italy but it was enough to win them the three points. This was the best result for Ireland too, with Italy already through to they knockout stages they may even rest some of those stalwart defenders when we play them.