The Sweden midfielder Albin Ekdal has praised Giorgio Chiellini for looking after him while both played for Juventus, but added the Italy centre-back likes to influence referees and can be “a swine” on the pitch.
Sweden and Italy meet in Group E in Toulouse on Friday with Ekdal coming up against two former team-mates from his time in Turin in Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon. The Swede joined Juventus in 2008 and, while he has only praise for the Italians for how they treated him as a youngster at the club, he knows they adopt a completely different mentality once they step on the pitch.
Ekdal, who spent seven years in Serie A at four different clubs before joining Hamburg in 2015, remembers how both of them helped him settle in Turin as an 18-year-old. “Chiellini treated me, maybe not as a little brother but like a youth team player,” Ekdal told Swedish media on Wednesday. “He drove me to training when I didn’t have a driving licence and so on. On the pitch he can be a swine though. He knows that himself but then everyone wants a player like that.
“We will have to try to wind him up but he is not an unwise swine. He doesn’t do much off the ball but he likes to play-act and influence the referees. It’s classic Italian stuff. I guess we will have to try to do the same.”
Ekdal, who injured himself in a night club in Hamburg before the Euros but came on as a substitute in Sweden’s first game, the 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland, has a lot of praise for Buffon, who will be winning his 158th cap on Friday.
“He is an incredible guy. He is kind and looks after young players all the time. I have only fond memories of him. He is the leader for this Italian team and is incredibly admired, not only in Italy but around the world. He spreads love and gets this team going. I think he is incredibly important for Italy.”
Ekdal was impressed by Italy in their opening game, the 2-0 win against Belgium, but he is hopeful Sweden can get a result in Toulouse. “We can let them have the ball for a bit, they are not the quickest with the ball. If we get our positioning right then we can defend well and counterattack.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010