Antonio Conte's team is off to a fantastic start in this Euro 2016 campaign, beating the World no. 2 Belgium side pretty convincingly with a margin of two goals in their opener. No one expected Italy to win and those who did expect them to win were called naive but the Italians outclassed their much-fancied opponents.
Italy were successful in keeping the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku at bay and nailed their chances as it came to them. The contributions of Leonardo Bonucci and Georgio Chiellini at the back were impressive and their ability to find a man with the long balls was absolutely mouthwatering to see on that particular day at Lyon.
It would be a crime to ignore the cool touch and composed finish by Bologna's Emanuele Giaccherini (on loan from Sunderland) as he gave Italy the crucial lead which set the tempo of the game. This Italy side didn't have big names on the sheet and yet Antonio Conte was able to pull out a tactical master class and defied all odds. Conte was labeled a genius and he deserves all the praise.
On the other hand, Erik Hamren's Swedish team ended their first game in disappointment. Though the match against The Republic of Ireland ended in a draw, no Swedish player looked impressive.
The only goal they managed to score was an own goal when Zlatan Ibrahimovic drilled a low cross from the left-hand side. The big man himself looked out of sorts and was begging for some decent support from the other players.
Conte's Azzurri will face the jaded Swedish side at Stadium Municipal in Toulouse in front of 33,000 fans. Italy will look to seal their place into the last 16 with a win, while Sweden will look to bag their first win of the campaign and strengthen their chances to go into the next round.
Sweden sit in the third position in the Group E level on points with the Republic of Ireland, while Italy is on top and the mighty Belgium is at the bottom. If Belgium defeats the Republic of Ireland in their next game, it is of utmost importance for Sweden to manage at least a draw against Italy on Friday. Italy would still have the best chance to qualify for the knockout stages as it is the only team in their group with a win as of now.
Head to head
Last time both these teams faced each other was in an International friendly which was held on 18 November 2009 at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi in Cesena, Italy. The home side emerged victorious thanks to a Giorgio Chiellini header in the 28th minute. Here is the record between the two sides.
Total matches played: 22
Italy won: 10
Sweden won: 6
Certainly the stats tell us about Italy`s domination over Sweden in the past years, but since qualification to the next stage of Euro 2016 is at stake for both sides, the game between the two would definitely be a cracker.
Manchester United's versatile right back, Matteo Damian is injured and might give way to Milan’s Mattia De Sciglio, who replaced him against Belgium. Antonio Conte might make a change in the midfield by replacing Daniele De Rossi with PSG's Thiago Motta to add some alacrity and energy. Graziano Pelle dislocated his finger and is a doubt for the game and hence Ciro Immobile may start in front of goal.
For Sweden, Erik Johansson may get a chance to partner Andreas Granqvist, while Victor Lindelof may play as a fullback replacing Mikael Lustig who is down with an injury.
Sweden will go all guns blazing against the Italians and Olsson's pace down the flank would be their key to stopping the dangerous Candreva and to aid their attack. Not to forget the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the middle who is yet to make an impact in this tournament.
However, Italy's defensive organisation coupled with Conte's tactical brilliance could be a tough nut to crack for Erik Hamren's men. I fancy the Italians to win it by a narrow margin.Published 17 Jun 2016, 14:10 IST