Italy had by far the better of the Euro play-off, but Ciro Immobile could only give them a slender 1-0 first leg lead over Sweden. The decider is on October 16.
This was the first leg of the play-off for the European Under-21 Championship, which will be played in June 2013. The Azzurrini had topped their group under Ciro Ferrara and then Devis Mangia, but lost several key players.
Stephan El Shaarawy, Marco Verratti and Mattia Destro have been promoted to the senior squad, while Liverpool striker Fabio Borini fractured his foot in training this week and Alessandro Crescenzi is also absent. Mangia opted for a 4-4-2 with Lorenzo Insigne out wide on the left as an added attacker. Sweden had Pescara man Mervan Celik suspended for the first leg at Pescara’s Stadio Adriatico.
Roma midfielder Alessandro Florenzi’s smart through ball released Giuseppe De Luca, but the Atalanta striker saw his shot charged down at the last moment.
The Azzurrini broke through after just 17 minutes with two ex-Pescara players in their old hunting ground. Insigne’s free kick was beaten off the line with difficulty by the Swedish goalkeeper and Immobile pounced on the loose ball to fire it under the bar from six yards.
However, Francesco Bardi almost allowed Sweden an immediate equaliser with a howler. The Inter-owned goalkeeper was caught way off his line and back-pedalled desperately to flap a long Victor Claesson free kick just past the post. From that corner, a Tom Pettersson header was decisively cleared off the line by Florenzi!
Marco Capuano’s header into the ground bounced back over the bar after Paolo Frascatore forced a corner. In a wonderful move, De Luca nodded down an Immobile cross for the Luca Marrone volley just off target.
The Azzurrini had a fantastic chance on the counter with three against two, but Insigne didn’t get his pass out quickly enough and was charged down. Banti smothered a Mikael Ishak snapshot into the ground and Pettersson crucially got a touch to block De Luca for a corner.
Karl-Johan Johnsson got down to beat away a Florenzi strike and Riccardo Saponara couldn’t make the most of the rebound. Another Ishak long-ranger surprised Bardi only to whistle inches wide, while Immobile’s effort from the edge of the box was well off target.
On the stroke of half-time De Luca went forward and Insigne’s curler scraped a coat of paint off the far post. A scorching De Luca run on to Insigne’s through ball and series of dummies almost forced Sweden into an own goal, as the deflection whistled just wide.
Insigne unleashed a screamer from outside the area that grazed the top of the crossbar. The Napoli talent should’ve made it 2-0 on 68 minutes, but flashed the angled drive across the face of goal with De Luca waiting for an assist.
An Insigne rocket stung the gloves of goalkeeper Johnsson in the final minutes. Manolo Gabbiadini controlled on the edge of the box with his back to goal and tried to turn his marker, but the referee opted to give the free kick against him and award a yellow card for simulation.
Italy 1-0 Sweden
Scorers: Immobile 17 (I)
Italy U21: Bardi; De Sciglio, Capuano, Caldirola, Frascatore; Saponara (Rossi 59), Florenzi (Viviani 81), Marrone, Insigne; Immobile (Gabbiadini 75), De Luca
Sweden U21: Johnsson; M Johansson, Jansson, Pettersson, Demir; Hiljemark, J Johansson, Claesson, Hamad; Ishak, Armenteros (R Jonsson 69)
Ref: Soares (POR)