Matteo Darmian’s shot came off the upright, but Sweden beat Italy 1-0 in the first leg of the World Cup play-off thanks to a deflected Jakob Johansson strike.
The Azzurri entered their first World Cup play-off since 1997, which curiously was also Gigi Buffon’s senior debut, and have not missed this tournament since 1958. The decider is at San Siro on November 13.
Simone Zaza was injured with Stephan El Shaarawy cut from the final 23-man squad for this first leg in Solna, so Andrea Belotti started despite not being fully fit in a 3-5-2 formation, shelving the unpopular 4-2-4 system. Mikael Lustig was suspended for the hosts, who came second in their group behind France and eliminated the Netherlands.
Within 30 seconds, Ola Toivonen elbowed Leonardo Bonucci in the face, but Marcus Berg was booked for dissent in that incident. The Swedes pressed high from the start, trying to use their aggression and tempo to good effect.
Belotti had a fantastic chance after five minutes, his looping header inches wide of the far post on a Matteo Darmian cross from the by-line.
Toivonen followed with a low drive skimming the woodwork from 20 metres out, while Emil Forsberg’s curler and free kick were both off target.
Marco Verratti was booked for a lunging tackle on 28 minutes and will be suspended for the second leg at San Siro on Monday.
The Italy defenders were caught ball-watching, so 39-year-old Gigi Buffon rushed out to deny both Berg and the Toivonen follow-up.
Antonio Candreva caused danger twice straight after the restart, his ball flashing across the face of goal and then a strike palmed out from the near top corner by Robin Olsen.
The goalkeeper also smothered at Marco Parolo’s feet, but Albin Ekdal was an injury doubt and went off for Sweden. His replacement, Jakob Johansson, opened the scoring within four minutes with a stroke of luck. The throw-in was knocked down and his shot from the edge of the box took a huge deflection off Daniele De Rossi, wrong-footing Buffon at the near post.
Eder replaced the not fully fit Belotti and the Azzurri were unlucky on 70 minutes when Darmian’s ferocious shot from the edge of the post smacked against the upright with Olsen rooted to the spot.
Lorenzo Insigne replaced Verratti for the final 15 minutes, but seemed to take a more central role than he is accustomed to and there were no genuine chances created.
Sweden 1-0 Italy
Johansson 61 (S)
Sweden: R Olsen; Krafth (Svensson 83), Granqvist, Lindelof, Augustinsson; Claesson, Ekdal (Johanssen 57), Larsson, Forsberg; Berg (Thelin 74), Toivonen
Italy: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Candreva, Parolo, De Rossi, Verratti (Insigne 76), Darmian; Immobile, Belotti (Eder 65)
Ref: Cakir (TUR)
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