Things are starting to hot up in Group E, Italy defied perhaps even their own expectations to beat a much-fancied Belgium side 2-0 in their opener, while Sweden laboured to a 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland, that they only earned thanks to Ciaran Clark’s own goal. Sweden looked poor for long periods of that game and will need to step up against Italy, who have proven themselves to be a solid unit. Italy go into this game knowing that victory will guarantee them a place in the last-16.
History is on the side of Antonio Conte’s men as they have won nine of the last 21 meetings between the sides, including six draws and Sweden have not beaten Italy since 1998. Form in qualifying, Italy going unbeaten and Sweden requiring a play- off, coupled with the performances of the two in their first group matches suggests that it will be very difficult for Sweden to record that first victory in 18 years.
Italy: Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini, Candreva, Parolo, Giaccherini, De Rossi, De Sciglio, Éder, Pellé
Italy will be looking to name the same eleven that performed so well against Belgium but they have been struck by a few injury concerns. Matteo Darmian was brought off with a knock in the first game and could well find himself on the bench, with Mattia De Sciglio the most likely replacement. In better news for the Azzurri, Graziano Pellé looks to have recovered from his minor foot injury that caused him to miss training on Tuesday and ready to take his place in the starting line-up.
Sweden: Isaksson, Johansson, Lindelöf, Granqvist, Olsson, Larsson, Lewicki, Källström, Forsberg, Ibrahimović, Bérg
Sweden could be without the services of Mikael Lustig after he limped off with a groin injury in their opener on Monday. Apart from that Erik Hamrén has a clean bill of health to choose from. Elsewhere, we could expect tactical changes as Sweden look to bounce back from the disappointing performance against Ireland.
Belgium manager Marc Wilmots did not take well to Italy’s defensive tactics and even accusing Italy of not playing real football. Expect Antonio Conte to take no notice and continue playing the defensive game that suits Italy best. An integral part of this style is Juventus centre-back Leonardo Bonucci, in this Italy side he operates as one of three centre-backs. He looked very impressive against Belgium, their array of attacking talent could not find a way around him and he supplied a world class ball from inside his own half to set up Emmanuele Giaccherini for Italy’s opener.
If Sweden are going to have any success in this game they are going to have to get quality balls into Ibrahimović. One man they will looking towards to provide such balls is Oscar Lewicki, the 23-year-old midfielder is one of the most promising young talents in the Swedish national team right now. He is known for his attacking intent and this will be crucial today as Sweden were largely criticised for not showing enough of this against the Republic of Ireland.
I can only see one result in this game, Italy well exceeded my expectations in the opener while Sweden underwhelmed me. Italy will continue to be solid at the back and I don’t see enough cutting edge in this Swedish side to be able to breal this down. I will go for a fairly comfortable 2-0 win for the Italians.