KEIR RADNEDGE in TOULOUSE: Italy became the second team after hosts France to clinch a place in the second round at Euro 2012 – with a 100pc record and a game to spare – after benefiting from yet another late winner to beat Sweden 1-0 in Toulouse.
The Azzurri confirmed their place at the head of Group E with an 88th-minute strike from Internazionale’s Brazilian-born striker Eder Citadin Martins. Sweden, who worked solidly but without inspiration, risk first-round elimination if they do not pick themselves up decisively in their concluding Group E game against Belgium next week.
Italy’s victory was characteristic of the old days with the goal coming from nowhere after an obdurate, smothering performance which drew all the breath out of the game. Certainly there was no sign of dangerous attacking life from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Off his game in the opening draw against the Irish Republic, Ibrahimovic contributed a modicum of delicate touches but rarely if ever ventured into a penalty box commanded imposingly as ever by rival veteran superstar Gigi Buffon.
The first half produced amost nothing by way of serious action until the 35th minute when Sweden’s John Guidetti shot high and wide.
A similar story pervaded the second half though Italy began to look sharper after manager Antonio Conte sent on Juventus’ Simone Zaza in place of Graziano Pelle who appeared to have been slowed by injury.
Italy went close in the 81st minute when Marco Parolo headed against the top of the bar but Sweden failed to learn their lesson.
With two minutes remaining Giorgio Chiellini saw the chance for a quick throw-in up the left wing, Zaza knocked the ball back and Eder seized possession to slalom wide of two defenders and shoot low past keeper Andreas Isaksson’s left hand.
“I’m delighted, first and foremost for all of my team-mates considering how hard we’ve worked,” said Eder afterwards.
“There’s no such thing as an easy game anymore. We knew it was going to be hard. Details make the difference in football and even throw-ins matter . . . these are things we have been working on.”