FIFA World Cup Playoff Preview: Italy -v- Sweden

Mon, Nov 13 2017

Sweden defender Martin Olsson. Credit: Al Robinson


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Italy face a simple task if they are to avoid failing to make the World Cup finals for only the second time in their history and the first time since 1958 - a win by two clear goals is a requirement, or else force a penalty shotoout.


The finals were held in Sweden that year and, along with the first World Cup that European nations refused to enter, it's the only time the Azzurri have been absent from the world stage.


That's the scale of the challenge – and the heavy weight of history – facing Italy manager Gian Piero Ventura as he reaches the end of his first campaign as national coach.


A 1-0 defeat in Stockholm in the first leg doesn't tell the whole story of that match as the Azzurri were outfought and ultimately outplayed by their less salubrious opponents.


Matteo Darmian went close to snatching a draw and a priceless Sweden goal for Italy with a rasping drive in the second half but it would have been very much unmerited.


“We analysed Friday’s match, realising what we did and that we can do a lot more,” Ventura said at the pre-match press conference.


“Tactics are important but on their own they’re not enough, just how heart and determination aren’t enough on their own. Together, the three things guarantee success.


“When I arrived at the National Team the situation was this: Only one team would qualify directly for the World Cup and Spain were in the group.


“The journey was going well but we took into account that Spain were probably stronger and we’d likely have to go to the play-off.


“We’re there now. If we lose we’ll make certain considerations and if we win we’ll make other ones.”


Ventura will be without star midfielder Marco Verratti after he picked up a yellow card suspension on Friday night but he has an otherwise full squad to choose from.




Sweden drew perhaps the toughest of all seeded opponents in the play-offs when they saw the Azzurri's name drawn from the hat.


However they had little fear going into their match having overcome both France in qualifying and finishing ahead of the Netherlands – both recent World Cup finalists.


And they quickly set about imposing their game on the Italians in Stockholm, maintaining a feverish tempo and forcing their more technically-gifted opponents into errors.


And there was little surprise when they broke the deadlock early in the second half althoug the identity of the scorer, substitute Jakob Johanssen, surely was.


They endured a nervy finish as Italy hit the post through Darmian, but they defended well to ensure they travel to Milan with a one-goal advantage.


Sweden will be without the injured Albin Ekdal, meaning Johanssen is likely to start, while Mikael Lustig returns from suspension.



Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Spain).




The sides last met in competitive action (before Friday) during Euro 2016 when a late Eder strike was enough to earn Italy all three points and passage to the knockout stages.


The two teams have met 23 in total, with Italy holding the edge with ten wins to Sweden's seven, and six draws.




Italy 1/2; Draw 16/5; Sweden 6/1.



Italy 2 – 1 Sweden




Injured: None.

Doubtful: None.

Suspended: Marco Verratti.



Injured: Albin Ekdal.

Doubtful: None.

Suspended: None.