Italy crashed out of next year’s World Cup finals in Russia after playing a goal-less draw against Sweden at the San Siro Stadium. The Yellow-Blue qualified on a 1- 0 aggregate, having won the first match of the two-legged play-off by a lone goal on their home soil.
The Azzurri prior to this elimination have only been absent from the World Cup finals twice – in the maiden edition which was hosted by Uruguay in 1930 and in 1958 when they were eliminated by Northern Ireland.
Just as most football observers predicted, Sweden came to this match to defend their one-goal home lead, and at the end of the encounter their performance can be rightly judged as a defensive master-class.
Italy was the dominant side in the two halves of the game, they enjoyed majority of the ball possession and had more attempts at scoring; in fact the match for a long time was played in Sweden’s half of the pitch. This was another game of attack versus defence
The Spanish referee Mateu Antonio waved aside three penalty appeals by Sweden’s players. On each occasion, the Italian defenders had actually touched the ball with their out-stretched hands.
Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian were very active from the flanks, and they constantly bombarded Sweden’s eighteen yard box with crosses from their positions, but the tight-knit defensive formation of the visiting team, headed out all the balls that were send into the goal-mouth.
Candreva had a chance to put his side ahead in the twenty seventh minute of the game, but his shot from inside the eighteen yard box was parried over the crossbar by Robin Olsen.
Another clear-goal scoring chance came Italy’s way when Ciro Immobile breached Sweden’s offside trap and latched onto the ball inside the opponent’s eighteen yard box, but his final shot took a deflection from Olsen’s foot that sent it flying towards the open goalpost, but on came Andrease Granqvist, who did a last-minute clearance before it crossed the byline.
Granqvist was on hand again to make a crucial interception that prevented Darmian’s cross from locating some of his team mates inside Sweden’s six yard box.
The second half played out almost like the first: it was an all Italy’s waves of attacking football in the opponent’s half of the pitch; Sweden had few counter-attacks which the squandered.
Italy had some scoring chances in the second half of the match, as they desperately searched for a goal. The chances came from the goal-bound shots from Alessandro Florenzi and, second half substitute, Stephan El shaarawy but goalkeeper Olsen made brilliant saves of those efforts.
The visiting team was able to prevent Italy’s barrage of attacking play, that came mostly in form of long balls played into their eighteen yard box, from being converted to goals ; the tall-stature of most Sweden’s player was of great advantage to them in the unremitting aerial duels they fought against the Azzurri’s players.
With today’s elimination, Italy join Holland as one the big football powers to miss out of next year’s world Cup finals in Russia.