Italy have made the task of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup a lot tougher for themselves following a 1-0 defeat against Sweden at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.
A lone second half strike from substitute Jakob Johansson was enough to give the home side a slender lead to take to the second leg at the Stadio San Siro on Monday evening.
Sweden have now scored in their last 16 competitive home matches and kept up their home record against the Azzurri, losing just once in nine matches.
A frantic early start immediately saw Leonardo Bonucci coming together with Ola Toivonen, after which the AC Milan defender needed treatment, as the Azzurri sat back and invited their opponents forward.
Emil Forsberg hoofed a freekick into the stands, while at the other end Andrea Belotti missed a glorious chance from six yards out, heading a Matteo Darmian cross inches wide of Robin Olsen’s right-hand post.
Clearly playing for a draw, Italy continually slowed the pace of the game down, and offered very little in attack as the first half went on.
Toivonen fired just past the post, then Forsberg again curled an effort over, though this time it was much closer to Gianluigi Buffon’s goal.
A moment of madness from Marco Verratti saw the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder go through the back of Marcus Berg, earning himself a yellow card and this ruling himself out of Monday’s return leg.
Then a heart in mouth moment for the Azzurri as a mistake at the back allowed Toivonen to nick in front of Buffon, before the ball found its way to Berg, but the Juventus shotstopper was alert to the danger.
After the break, it was Italy who came out on the front foot and Antonio Candreva fizzed an shot at Olsen, who beat it away for a corner.
However, it was the Swedes who took the lead thanks to a deflected shot from Johansson. Toivonen flicked a long throw into his path, and the substitute’s effort came off Daniele De Rossi and rolled into the bottom corner, past a helpless Buffon to send the home crowd wild.
— Alessia Novelli (@Alessia_Nov) November 10, 2017
There could have been goals at both ends as first Darmian struck the woodwork with a fine long range effort, then a stinging counter-attack, started by Forsberg, eventually found Viktor Claesson on the right, but his low shot from just inside the penalty area was saved by Buffon.
Lorenzo Insigne blasted over with his first act of the game after replacing Verratti with Italy desperately searching for an equaliser which never came.