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Italy risks missing World Cup after losing to Sweden 1-0

Four-time champion Italy is left at serious risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup following a 1-0 loss at Sweden in the opening leg of a playoff

Published on November 10, 2017 2:00PM

Last changed on November 10, 2017 7:00PM

From left, Italy's Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi, Ciro Immobile and Giorgio Chiellini react during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The Associated Press

From left, Italy's Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi, Ciro Immobile and Giorgio Chiellini react during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Sweden's Jakob Johansson celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The Associated Press

Sweden's Jakob Johansson celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, left, Sweden's Marcus Berg and Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, right, go for the ball during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The Associated Press

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, left, Sweden's Marcus Berg and Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, right, go for the ball during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Sweden's Jakob Johansson celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The Associated Press

Sweden's Jakob Johansson celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura reacts during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The Associated Press

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura reacts during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, left, and Sweden's Marcus Berg battle for the ball during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT via AP)

The Associated Press

Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, left, and Sweden's Marcus Berg battle for the ball during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT via AP)

Sweden's Emil Forsberg, left, jumps past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The Associated Press

Sweden's Emil Forsberg, left, jumps past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Sweden and Italy, at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


SOLNA, Sweden (AP) Four-time champion Italy was left at serious risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup after losing at Sweden 1-0 in the opening leg of their playoff on Friday.

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.

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."

Italy has participated in every World Cup since failing to qualify for the 1958 tournament, which coincidentally was held in Sweden.

The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.

While Sweden didn't compete in the last two World Cups, it impressed in qualifying with a win over France and finished ahead of the Netherlands in its group.

Ventura relied on Ciro Immobile and Belotti two of his former players at Torino in attack. That decision left winger Lorenzo Insigne, considered the Azzurri's most talented forward recently, on the bench.

Sweden showed its intentions in the opening minute, when Toivonen was fouled for a hard foul that left Bonucci on the ground seeking medical attention.

Italy was fortunate when veteran De Rossi escaped punishment for a swipe to the face of Marcus Berg in the 18th. But 10 minutes later, Verratti was shown a yellow card for a foul on Berg.

Insigne replaced Verratti for the final quarter hour but made little impact.

With his strong play on the left flank, Darmian was Italy's only bright spot. Jose Mourinho, Darmian's manager at Manchester United who watched from the tribune, had to be pleased.

Otherwise, the Azzurri were too predictable and slow to punish Sweden's well-organized defense.

"Their goal was fairly lucky," Darmian said. "But we need to do more."



 

 

 

 

 

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