Italy ran some huge risks in the final stages, fumbling a 2-0 lead, but secured their place in the European Under-21 Championships with a 3-2 victory in Sweden.
The Azzurrini had a 1-0 lead from the first leg of this crucial play-off to enter the 2013 European Under-21 Championship. Many of the talents who got them through the group phase, such as Marco Verratti, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia Destro, have been moved up to the senior squad. Sweden had Pescara forward Mervan Celik back from suspension.
The Italians started brightly with Lorenzo Insigne and Giuseppe De Luca testing the goalkeeper before Ciro Immobile audaciously spotted him off his line and attempted a lob from the centre-circle.
Napoli talent Insigne’s angled drive forced Karl-Johan Johnsson into a save, while a ball was cleared to the edge of the box where Fausto Rossi hit a daisy-cutter that whistled inches wide of the upright.
The Azzurrini went so close to a deserved opener on 16 minutes, as Insigne ran on to Immobile’s through ball and chipped up a cross for De Luca’s glancing header from six yards, but the goalkeeper performed an incredible reaction save with his knee.
Moments later Sweden had their first scoring opportunity, as Mikael Ishak’s angled drive was brilliantly parried by Francesco Bardi after a Paolo Frascatore error let Matias Johansson down the right.
Immobile was again outlandish with an overhead kick that did not surprise the goalkeeper. They really should’ve scored on 35 minutes, but Immobile opted for an over-hit pass to De Luca rather than the shot and they were only able to force a corner. From that set play, a Luca Caldirola half-volley was deflected over the bar.
The second half started in much the same way with De Luca’s shot charged down and the goalkeeper smothering an Immobile snapshot. There was a Swedish attack, but Ishak horribly scuffed the finish on the counter.
Manolo Gabbiadini came off the bench, but immediately wasted a very promising counter-attack.
Italy finally made their dominance count with a magnificent solo effort from Napoli talent Insigne. He curled a glorious shot into the far top corner in what is generally known as a Del Piero style goal. He gathered with his back to goal on the edge of the box and in one motion spun round to curl the remote-controlled shot where Johnsson simply could not reach.
Sweden were rocking and Roma midfielder Florenzi added a second, as he ran on to a smart through ball and smashed his angled drive across Johnsson into the far bottom corner.
However, Italy were still celebrating when a defensive error allowed Sweden to pull one back. Caldirola let a long ball fall over his shoulder, not realising Ishak was right behind him and the striker squirmed between him and Marco Capuano to prod home from point-blank range.
The game was goalless for so long, but burst into life in spectacular fashion. Sweden went from 2-0 down to 2-2 when a ball was cleared to the edge of the area and Oscar Hiljemark unleashed a scorching volley that flew past Bardi at the base of the near post.
Italy still had the lead on aggregate and on away goals, so Sweden needed a 4-2 victory on the night to qualify. They kept pouring forward and Pontus Jansson’s header skimmed the crossbar.
However, the Azzurrini struck on the counter to put their qualification behind doubt. Immobile sparked the move from the centre-circle, sending Gabbiadini forward and following his run to get on the end of the return pass, delicately lobbing the on-rushing goalkeeper.
It still wasn’t over, though, as Bardi flew to palm a dangerous Rasmus Jonsson drive out of the top corner.
Sweden 2-3 Italy (2-4 on agg)
Scorers: Insigne 68 (I), Florenzi 71 (I), Ishak 72 (S), Hiljemark 77 (S), Immobile 86 (I)
Sweden U21: K Johnsson; M Johansson, Jansson, Pettersson, Demir (Claesson 78); Hamad, Hiljemark, J Johansson (Jonsson 76), Albornoz; Ishak, Celik (Armenteros 70)
Italy U21: Bardi; De Sciglio, Capuano, Caldirola, Frascatore; Florenzi (Crimi 82), Rossi, Marrone, Insigne; Immobile (Saponara 89), De Luca (Gabbiadini 59)
Ref: Oliver (ENG)
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