Italy face Sweden at the Stade Municipal on 17/06/16 knowing that a victory would ensure Antonio Conte’s men qualify for the knockout stages of Euro 2016.
Italy were excellent in their opening group match, producing one of the performances of the tournament thus far with a 2-0 win over one of the tournaments big favourites Belgium on Monday night. Playing with Conte’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, the Italians were stubborn and streetwise and really showed their experience of performing at major tournaments; a quality Belgium are still getting to terms with. Sunderland flop Emanuele Giaccherini is a favourite amongst the Italian national side and justified his manager’s faith in him by giving his side the lead with a composed finish just after the half hour mark. From then on, with something to cling onto, they resisted the forthcoming Belgian attacks and it is clear to see that the famous Juve back three and keeper Gigi Buffon are the true stars of this side. Then, as the game went into stoppage time, they hit Marc Wilmots’ team on the break with devastating effect as Graziano Pelle was picked out at the far post and emphatically volleyed home to seal a crucial 2-0 win. After beating the strongest team on paper in Group E, Italy are now firmly in the driving seat to go on and finish top of the group but will have to cope with the tag of being favourites in both their clashes with Sweden and Ireland. With 16/1 odds to win the tournament before a ball was kicked, they have since shrunk to 10/1 after beating Belgium in such convincing style and certainly made everyone stand up and take notice of them.
Sweden can consider themselves fortunate to not have come away from their opening match with Ireland on zero points, relying on an inauspicious own goal from defender Ciaran Clark to get them out of jail. Martin O’Neill’s team – who were looking to eradicate the nightmare of their European Championship campaign of four years prior – started brightly but could not find the breakthrough as Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick both went close in the first half. However, they wasted little time in going ahead in the second period with Wes Hoolahan’s sweet right-footed striker finding Andres Isakson’s bottom left corner to the delight of the Irish fans behind the goal. But Sweden to their credit fought back, dominating much of the latter stages of the game and it was their captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who was largely ineffective for the most part – that carved Ireland open down the left before his cross was inadvertently diverted into his own net by the unfortunate Clark. For both teams, a point really can’t be deemed good enough with both Italy and Belgium still to come in their two remaining group matches, where you would naturally expect them to take maximum points on any given day. But in tournament football anything can happen, particularly when you have a world-class player in your ranks as Sweden do. Despite not having the best team in this match, Sweden will have the outstanding individual on the field donning their recognisable yellow shirt in Ibrahimovic and if he can show up on the day, anything is possible.
Conte is expected to name the same lineup which started the victory over Belgium, with their customary 3-5-2 formation likely to stay for the duration of their spell at Euro 2016. However, their streetwise – and arguably cynical – antics in the match did see them pick up four yellow cards, with Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Thiago Motta and Eder one booking away from suspension.
Right-back Mikael Lustig (thigh) limped off during their 1-1 draw with Ireland and is a doubt for this one, with Erik Johansson set to deputise at centre-half, forcing Victor Lindelöf to again cover at full-back.