Italian Apocalypse Looms Following Shock First Leg Defeat To Sweden

Sweden registered a famous 1-0 victory over Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff first leg in Stockholm thanks to a deflected effort from substitute Jakob Johansson. The return leg is on Monday in Milan with Italy’s hopes of a 19th World Cup appearance in serious jeopardy. 

Johansson’s 61st minute strike was vital, but Sweden’s ability to successfully keep Italy off the scoresheet was just as big. An away goal in Milan would almost certainly be enough to send Sweden through, and this Swedish side has enough talent to go toe-to-toe with the four-time world champions.

The opening half was a totally absorbing affair with Sweden playing some impressive football while outshooting Italy 6-1. However, neither side landed a shot on target with Italy’s legendary rearguard of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini giving the Swede’s zero joy in the area. 

Italy’s only major worry from the opening 45 was a yellow card to Marco Verratti in the 28th minute for a bizarrely rash challenge. The PSG midfielder will now miss the return leg through suspension. 

The warning signs were there for Italy, but they began the second half looking more spirited going forward. In the 57th minute, Albin Ekdal was taken off and replaced by Johansson. Four minutes later, the AEK Athens midfielder made himself a national hero.

He did well to strike a volley low and hard on target, and his effort took a heavy deflection to beat Buffon in net.

Friends Arena and the spectating Zlatan Ibrahimovic went nuts. 

Italy almost grabbed an equalizer when Matteo Darmian sent a thunderous volley crashing off the post, but Sweden ultimately held on for the 1-0 victory.

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