Italy manager Giampiero Ventura says his side need a “great performance” in the second leg of their play-off with Sweden if they are to avoid missing out on a first World Cup since 1958.
The Swedes won the first leg 1-0 at the Friends Arena, the only goal coming when Jakob Johansson drilled home from 20 yards, via a Daniele de Rossi deflection.
They were the better team in the first half, and while the Azzurri slightly improved after the break, they were still disappointing.
Matteo Darmian went closest to equalising but hit the post.
Italy – who will be without the suspended Marco Verratti – will need to win Monday’s second leg at the San Siro to reach the World Cup in Russia.
Ventura said: “This result is punishing. I hope that in Milan the officials give to us what they granted to them here.
“In a match as important as this we wanted a more even-handed approach. Now all that matters is getting the result.
“We have to turn everything on its head back in Milan. San Siro must give us a hand too but it is up to us to deliver a great performance for our fans.”
Physical Sweden deserved their win
The Swedes – who finished above the Netherlands to seal their play-off spot – looked up for the game from the very first whistle.
They played at a high-energy tempo, showing plenty of aggression in their attacks. Striker Marcus Berg, who scored eight goals in qualifying, was booked within 50 seconds. Ola Toivonen appeared to elbow Leonardo Bonucci in the face, with Berg booked for his angry reaction to his team conceding a free-kick.
Bonucci said after the game that the challenge fractured his nose.
“The Italians obviously wanted me to be dismissed,” said Berg. “They fell over whenever they could. I don’t think they pulled it off very well.
“I knew there would be war tonight and it will be a damn war on Monday.”
That intensity continued for the rest of the half, with a noisy home crowd getting behind their team – and loudly booing Bonucci every time he had the ball.
Most of the chances in the first half were Sweden’s – with six shots to Italy’s one. Toivonen shot just wide from 20 yards, the impressive Emil Forsberg curled wide from 25 yards and veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon had to act quickly to deny Berg and then Toivonen.
They were more subdued in the second half, but got their goal when Emil Krafth’s throw-in was laid off by Toivonen for substitute Johansson – who had only been on the pitch for four minutes. His effort hit De Rossi, and sent Buffon the wrong way.
Sweden – who lost to Italy at Euro 2016 – are now one clean sheet in Milan away from reaching their first World Cup since 2006.
With the away goal rule counting in World Cup play-offs, a Swedish goal at the San Siro would leave the Azzurri needing to score three times.
Ventura’s Italy underperform again
Italy – led by Giampiero Ventura – did not impress in their qualifying group. The four-time world champions were unfortunate to be in the same pool as Spain, but a 3-0 defeat in Madrid and a 1-1 draw against Macedonia were not to be expected.
Ventura again failed to find room in his 3-5-2 formation for in-form Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne, and his front two – Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile – did not click at all.
Belotti – who played for the 69-year-old manager at Torino – missed the Azzurri’s one and only chance of the first half. He headed wide from close range from Darmian’s cross. Shockingly, that was one of only five touches he had before being replaced in the 65th minute.
Influential midfielder Verratti, the Paris St-Germain schemer, got himself needlessly booked for a lunging slide on Berg in his own half – a yellow card which means he is banned for the second leg.
The hosts did go close when Darmian hit the post from 25 yards with a fantastic strike from Verratti’s pass but they failed to build any late pressure.
Italy did bring on Insigne for Verratti in the final 15 minutes but at that stage the rot appeared to have set in and the substitute dragged a shot wide in injury time.
The result means legendary Italy keeper Buffon, winning his 174th cap, could play his final competitive international game on Monday. The Juventus star had planned to retire after the World Cup – a tournament which would be his record sixth, if he can reach it.
Bonucci conceded they need to improve for the second leg: “We have to be quicker on the ball. In the return leg, we have to really fight. They played a very physical game but we can’t make excuses.”