Sweden, thanks to a Jakob Johansson goal in the 61st minute, are taking a 1-0 lead from the first leg of their World Cup playoff clash with Italy to the away leg. The Italians looked miserable and unimaginative for the whole 90 minutes, like during most of their campaign, with the blame seemingly falling on the shoulders of head coach Gian Piero Ventura.
In a match that didn’t really produce great moments of football, it was Johansson, the AEK Athens midfielder, who made the difference, with a long range shot bouncing off a defender’s leg to beat Gianluigi Buffon. Sweden were the more dangerous team during the match, but it wasn’t difficult compared to an Italian side that looked uninterested in developing anything with the ball.
Not that they could. Ventura stuck to the 3-5-2 lineup only with very little creativity, constantly trying long balls behind the defense without any B option, against a team that was very well prepared by Janne Andersson for anything Italy had to throw at his side.
The Italians tried to gain advantage on the pitch by targeting Marcus Berg, booked earlier in the match. However, referee Cüneyt Çakır seemed intent on keeping things level, and a minute after Berg elbowed another Italian player, Johansson scored his goal.
Ventura’s substitutions didn’t seem to work, as Italy didn’t change formation, nor change the way they approached the attack. Still 3 CBs and one defensive midfielders, never looking like they’re in a rush to score a goal. Matteo Darmian hit the woodwork, but overall Italy failed to generate minutes of pressure that made things difficult for Sweden.
As Italy head into the second leg (hosted in San Siro), the fear of failing to make the World Cup for the first time since 1958 seems very real. While Ventura could have made different choices with his lineup and football, this loss, performance and recent results by Italy in World Cup campaigns (failing to make it out of the group stage in 2010 and 2014) sheds a not-so-positive spotlight on the present of Italian football.