A deflected Jakob Johansson strike was enough to earn Sweden a first-leg advantage and leave Italy on the brink of missing out on a first World Cup since 1958. Giampiero Ventura’s side were listless throughout and, unless they overturn the deficit at the San Siro on Monday, they will miss out on reaching the finals in Russia next year.
The closest Italy came to a goal in Stockholm was through Matteo Darmian, the Manchester United defender, who rattled the post from long range in front of his watching club manager, José Mourinho, as Italy searched for an equaliser. In truth, the visitors lacked invention and failed to break down a stubborn Sweden backline in Stockholm.
“We need to overturn it all in Milan,” Ventura, the Italy manager, said. “We must put in a great performance for the crowd. Considering what happened on the pitch, the result was harsh.”
Ventura is coming under increasing pressure to step aside and should Italy fail to qualify it is likely the 69-year-old will move on.
While he is in place, though, his players are focusing on what they can do better in the second leg. The Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci said: “In the reverse fixture we’ll have to fight harder.”
Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen had threatened for Sweden, with the latter superbly denied by the evergreen Gianluigi Buffon in the Italy goal, before Johansson, a second-half substitute at the Friends Arena, scored a decisive winner after 61 minutes.
When Toivonen flicked on a long throw into the path of Johansson, the ball bounced before the midfielder struck his powerful effort goalwards. The ball cannoned off the torso of Daniele de Rossi and that deflection was enough to wrong-foot Gianluigi Buffon, with the ball rolling inside his near post.
Italy never really rallied, aside from Darmian’s rasping effort with 20 minutes to play. Sweden, though, will take plenty of encouragement from a resolute performance into the second leg. On Monday, Italy will be without Marco Verratti through suspension, after he was booked. Janne Andersson’s side, meanwhile, are halfway to Russia. A clean sheet in Milan would ensure Sweden progress to their first World Cup since 2006.
Senegal qualify for World Cup after winning replayed game
A first-half goal from West Ham’s Diafra Sakho and an own goal from Thamsanqa Mkhize secured Senegal’s place in Russia as they overcame South Africa 2-0 in Polokwane.
South Africa had originally won the match 2-1 on November 12 last year, but it was agreed that the game would be replayed after referee Joseph Lamptey’s lifetime ban was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Lamptey has been expelled by FIFA over match-fixing allegations.
Senegal knew victory would be enough to send them to Russia, while South Africa needed to win here and in their final game in Senegal. Liverpool forward Sadio Mané set up Sakho for the opening goal in the 12th minute and the latter kept his composure to slide the ball home and silence a partisan crowd.
The hosts dominated the first half and went close to equalising when Lebogang Manyama’s shot hit the crossbar, but Stuart Baxter’s side went further behind before the break. Mané’s effort was brilliantly saved by Itumeleng Khune, only for Mkhize to haplessly head the rebound into his own net.
Senegal held on to reach the World Cup finals for only the second time. In 2002, they memorably defeated France on their debut, eventually losing to Turkey in the quarter-finals. They are the third African team to reach next year’s tournament, alongside Egypt and Nigeria. Tunisia can seal their place against Libya on Saturday, while Ivory Coast host Morocco in a battle for the other qualifying place. PA
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