EURO 2016

Late goal takes Italy through

Eder celebrating after putting Italy up against Sweden in Toulouse. The 88th-minute goal, which brought a somewhat dull match to life, turned out to be the winner.
Eder celebrating after putting Italy up against Sweden in Toulouse. The 88th-minute goal, which brought a somewhat dull match to life, turned out to be the winner.PHOTO: REUTERS

Eder's surging run and strike ensure Azzurri join hosts in last 16, Zlatan wastes his only chance

GROUP E

Italy 1
Sweden 0

Italy are making a habit of this. Two games have yielded two clean sheets and two wins, each containing a late goal.

If there was a considerable difference between their superb display against Belgium and a rather less emphatic performance against Sweden, both yielded three points.

The consequence is that they became the second team, after France, to book a spot in the last 16. Sweden were beaten, and they probably require a victory against Belgium if they are to prolong their stay in Euro 2016 after a cruel climax to this match.

Drifting towards a draw, it then sprang to life. Eder latched on to the substitute Simone Zaza's flick-on to surge through and bend a shot into the Swedish net for just his third international goal.

Six minutes earlier, Emanuele Giaccherini's cross was headed against the bar by his fellow midfielder Marco Parolo.

Yet it is indicative that until then the most dramatic element of the match was a rendition of a national anthem. Gianluigi Buffon's heartfelt singing of Il Canto Degli Italiani suggested a rousing encounter would follow. It did not but Italy will not mind.

Their game has always contained a strong pragmatic streak and this was an occasion to savour the result, rather than the match.

They have a historic tendency to struggle in the second game of tournaments. Even in their victorious campaign in the 2006 World Cup, they were fortunate to draw with the United States in their second outing. This time, however, they bucked a trend.

Sweden merit sympathy for their performance - they shaded much of the match, with Kim Kallstrom arguably the game's most impressive individual - but not in the bigger picture.

They have scored in Euro 2016, courtesy of the Republic of Ireland defender Ciaran Clark and appealed for a penalty for Leonardo Bonucci's injury-time challenge on Andreas Granqvist, but the fact is they are yet to record a shot on target.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic could not alter that. He was guilty of a glaring miss when Martin Olsson's cross came through to him at the far post - his only goal attempt. Sweden's talisman was then ruled offside, but he did not know that when he blazed over the Italian goal.

It amounted to a frustrating afternoon for a six-time Italian Serie A winner. Sweden's captain had scored a spectacular back-heeled volley against Italy in Euro 2004, but there was no repeat.

He may yet become the first player to find the net in four consecutive European Championships, but there is also the possibility he will be ushered into international retirement as soon as Wednesday.

The tone of Italian defiance was set when Giorgio Chiellini made a superb defensive header when he was clattered by Ibrahimovic.

Chiellini fought a physical duel with his former Juventus team-mate, one which the Italian won. They advance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Late goal takes Italy through'. Print Edition | Subscribe