Éder lights up dour affair in Toulouse as Italy edge Sweden
Azzurri leave it late but make it two wins from two and secure place in the last-16
Éder scored Italy’s late winner against Sweden. Photograph: Epa
In the end, there was something fitting somehow that the breakthrough came from a throw in. This was no classic clash but this tournament has another late goal; it also has another team through to the next round. Italy’s afternoon in Toulouse closed with their players running towards their fans and throwing themselves to the turf to celebrate their second victory and guarantee a place in the last sixteen, thanks to Éder’s 88th-minute winner.
For Sweden to join them they must defeat Belgium. And to do that, they must shoot. Two games into Euro 2016, they have not yet had an effort on target. Their top scorer is own goal. And if for a long time here that looked like it would be sufficient to clinch two draws, it was not to be. With two minutes left, a throw-in from Giorgio Chiellini, whose foot lifted as he launched the ball, was headed down by substitute Simone Zaza and Éder dashed from the left, surged past three players and struck a wonderful shot into the bottom corner.
There was still time for Sweden to appeal for a penalty, but Italy’s subs surged from the bench, cheering. There is certainly something about this team; they may not always be that much fun to watch but they are worse to play. Sweden had more of the ball but it could hardly be said that they had enjoyed it, and nor were they able to do much with it. Italy, who had hit the bar just before the goal had less of it, but there is a threat about them that other teams will be wary of. Italy are Italy again. Sweden need Zlatan to be Zlatan if they are to progress.
If there was a moment that went some way to explaining the first half, it was when Zlatan Ibrahimovic twice rolled the ball under his studs, drawing Marco Parolo in and then stepping inside away from him, before playing the pass. The footwork was smart, the technique impeccable and that familiar sense of superiority expressed; but it was also carried out in what was virtually a left-back position, well inside his own half and over near his manager on the touchline.
Ibrahimovic had dropped deep often, leaving Emil Forsberg moving inside up and forward to join John Guidetti. From there, Ibrahimovic’s involvement was greater and he could help Sweden to control this game, which they did for most of the opening 45 minutes: they’d had 59% of the ball and mostly they looked neat and comfortable in possession, his presence as ever a large one, while they occasionally progressed, particularly when Martin Olsson headed up the left.
But it was only occasional, the deliveries rarely troubled, and the problem appeared to be that if Ibrahimovic’s role brought control it also often distanced him from where he could really damage Italy. “We fear him so much,” Gigi Buffon had said; not there, they probably don’t. If Sweden were comfortable having the ball, Italy appeared comfortable with them having it too.
In fairness, that particular delivery was superb and was knocked down by Sebastian Larsson for John Guidetti to hit a rising shot over the bar from 20 yards. Yet the feeling that something decisive might actually happen was greater when the ball was sent into him a moment later. That time, he was closer to the six yard box and the ball almost fell for an opportunity. From the corner, he could not reach high enough to guide a header goalwards at the far post.
“Almost” was as good as it got and even “almost” did not happen often. A couple of dangerous looking crosses at each end briefly threatened and there was a sharp turn and run towards the near post from Alessandro Florenzi. But not, in truth, much more. By half time, there had been just one shot on target, and that was a deflected effort that trickled through to Andreas Isaksson. An hour into this game, Italy had still faced only two shots all tournament.
By then, Italy had momentarily worked their way into the game at the start of the second half, Graziano Pellè flicking the ball up and hitting over from the edge of the area before a succession of corners troubled Sweden. Kim Kallstrom came back to block off Emanuele Giaccherini. And a sharp volleyed cut back from Andrea Candreva was caught at the near post by Isaksson. When eventually Ibrahimovic found himself running in at the other end, taking on Chiellini, he was offside anyway.
He was offside again on 72 minutes, which might just have been a good thing considering he put the ball over from barely a metre with an open goal in front of him. The chance came after he had headed down for Forsberg and Olsson then delivered a clever ball to the far post. Or it would have done if you could call it a chance which, with the linesman’s flag up, you probably couldn’t. Which kind of summed this up and which seemed to be the end of it, but wasn’t.
Marco Parolo hit the bar from close range after a wonderful ball from Giaccherini, with eight minutes to go. And then, on 88, Italy got a throw in. Chiellini took it and Éder took Sweden apart.