The Azzurri gave a performance worthy of the Roman Empire against Belgium and are looking to book their place in the next round with a win against Blågult.
Italy have turned from tournament outsiders to thrusting themselves among the tournament favorites in the space of 90 magnificent minutes against Belgium. With goals from Giaccherini and Pele, Antonio Conte’s men put on one of the most Italian performances to date with reliable defending and swift counter attacking football.
The 2-0 victory against De Rode Duivels was marked not just by the convincing nature of the win but due to the surprisingly good performances of a group of players who have been largely written off. Bonucci was particularly instrumental as he strode out of the back three on numerous occasions to spray passes around like a young Pirlo, getting himself a beautiful assist for the first goal in the process.
Sweden meanwhile fought back from a goal down against Republic of Ireland to start their Euro 2016 campaign with a point. The equalizer came from one of the few moments of quality from Ibrahimovic, who collected a neat backheel from substitute John Guidetti and raced to the byeline before drilling in a low cross which forced Ireland’s Clark to nod into his own net.
Italy will probably stick with the 3-5-2 formation that worked so well against Belgium. The back four of Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli should remain the same for the remainder of the tournament but Motta and de Sciglio are both pushing for starts at wing back and central midfield respectively.
It is also unknown as who Conte has settled on as his strike partnership. Pelle may have got himself on the scoresheet against Belgium to cement his place in the team but Eder still hasn’t scored since January giving the likes of Immobile, Zaza and Insigne hope for a place in the starting XI.
Sweden were probably relived to leave their battle against the Irish with a point but the game gave coach Erik Hamren a selection headache as Mikael Lustig limped off before the break. The injury to the Celtic defender leaves Sweden without a specialist right-back in the squad.
Coach Hamren admitted his team was simply not at the races for 50 minutes in Saint Denis against Republic of Ireland, but remains confident they will improve for what on paper at least are tougher tests ahead.
He said: “Sometimes you just don’t get it to work right away. Credit to Ireland, they really showed up and we didn’t really react properly in the beginning.
“But we don’t have a problem with our focus. Our attitude has been really good. We have a proper attitude.”
In wake of the draw Ibrahimovic is confident he and his fellow countrymen can bounce back with a win against Italy. “I’m fine with the draw, what mattered was avoiding a defeat,” said Ibrahimovic at the end of the match as reported by La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I think we can defeat Italy too. But we’ll have to improve our game,” he added.
Italy were not given any time to celebrate their win against Belgium as the Italian players were forced into training the following morning, according to Italian newspaper La Stampa.
The Azzurri surprised and impressed the whole footballing world by beating one of the tournament’s favorites by a convincing 2-0.
“I have to thank the lads, as we prepared the game in the best way against a side full of talent,” Antonio Conte told Sky Sport Italia. “There was total participation from every player, not just those on the pitch, and that is what I like.
“We got a bit too deep and stopped playing towards the end, even if we were very dangerous at pace and had chances to double our lead. I am above all happy for the lads, as they deserve it for all they are doing and the kind of men they are.”
Conte has been criticized for selecting some untested and out of form players in his Euro 2016 squad but was proved right when one of those players scored the opening goal against Belgium. The 46-year-old coach is not getting carried away and knows it’ll take something special from his players to win the tournament on July 10.
“Unfortunately, everyone in Italy is a coach! Everybody likes to choose the line-up. I try to be honest and pick the players I feel are most suited to a certain type of football and match situation.
“We have to keep our feet on the ground. Don’t forget two years ago we won the opener of the 2014 World Cup against England and then went out. We must take it one step at a time and see if we can reach the Round of 16, then we’ll see.”
“Dreams help you to achieve something extraordinary. In order to make dreams come true, you need to do something extraordinary. Ordinary is not enough,” he added.
In a series of friendlies and qualifiers Italy have met Sweden a total of 21 times. Honors are even between the two nations with both teams winning six times and the remaining nine games ending in draws.
At major tournaments the each country has won a games each. At the 1950 World Cup Sweden beat Italy 3-2 in the group stages on their way to the final round. In 1970 the roles were reversed where it was the Italians who progressed to the next stage with the help of a 1-0 victory.
Sweden finished third in Group G qualifying after a monumental collapse. The Swedes were at least granted the pleasure of defeating Scandinavian rivals Denmark in the play-offs. They went through 4-3 on aggregate after a nervy 2-2 draw in the second leg in Copenhagen. Predictably Ibrahimovic top scored for the men in yellow with 11 goals.
Italy meanwhile topped their group to emerge victorious in a tricky pool containing the likes of Croatia, Norway and Bulgaria. They were short of goals though where Southampton target man Graziano Pelle top scored for the Azzurri with three.
In preparation for the tournament Antonio Conte’s men won both their warm-up games with clean sheets as they beat Scotland 1-0 and Finland 2-0. Sweden thrashed Wales 3-0 after drawing 1-1 with Czech Republic and 0-0 with Slovenia in their pre-tournaments preparations.
Predicted Line Ups
Italy: Buffon; Darmian, Barzagli. Bonucci, Chiellini, Candreva; Giaccherini, De Rossi, Parolo; Pellé, Eder.
Sweden: Isaksson; E. Johansson, Lindelof, Granqvist, Olsson; Lewicki, Kallstrom, Larsson, Forsberg; Berg, Ibrhimovic.
Italy 0 – 0 Sweden – 6/1
Italy 2 – 0 Sweden – 6/1
Italy 1 – 1 Sweden – 5/1
Over 2.5 goals – 11/8
1-1, 2-2 or 3-3 Draw – 4/1