A brilliant performance from Sweden saw them earn a 1-0 win at the Friends Arena in Stockholm thanks to a Jakob Johansson goal, but Italy coach Gianpiero Ventura pointed towards the physical approach of the home team as a factor in defeat.
That lone second half strike was enough to give the home side a slender lead to take to the second leg at the Stadio San Siro on Monday evening, putting Italy’s participation at the World Cup under real threat.
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.
“We could have done more and played better,” Ventura began. “We tried to handle certain situations and when we did, we did so with ease.
“The times when things went against us was because of the physicality of our opponents. There were a few scuffles, but Buffon never had to make a save.
“The result is annoying, because it could have been different if Belotti’s header went in, and Darmian hit the post. We still have 90 minutes to change the outcome.”
In terms of work which needs to be done, Ventura was unequivocal in his assessment of the Azzurri performance.
“Passing speed can be improved,” he went on. “And getting the ball into space when there is some as well.
“On the other hand, the physicality of the team is also important. Sweden constantly played long balled into our box, which resulted in lots of scuffles.
“We have to think about what happened and use our heads, we will come up with something. It may be that we will change something, but the formation doesn’t matter much.
“We had a clear plan going into the game, and it has shown us that we can do some things which make sense for us. And others in which we need to improve.”
Before the game at the Friends Arena, Ventura was convinced Italy would be on the plane to Russia next summer, a position which he has not moved from.
“I’m not surprised by Sweden’s approach,” he continued. “I knew they would play like this.
“In the defensive areas we conceded nothing, because I don’t remember, maybe a shot in the first half, where Buffon had to make a save.
“We could have done better in some areas. What we didn’t do well today, we will do well in two days time.
“The pressure is normal in Italy. That is how things work. It isn’t the media’s fault, if we haven’t gotten the results.”
The attitude of the Italy players has also come into question after another lacklustre performance, but Ventura insists they are hurting and want to make sure of World Cup qualification.
“I saw them in the dressing room,” he stated. “They are angry. They know they could have gotten a different result, and they want to make sure of qualification.
“It all starts from Buffoin who has a fierce desire to succeed. We were slightly surprised by their physicality, and now we know exactly the type of opponent we are facing.”