Sweden made history last night by defending their one goal aggregate lead and qualifying ahead of Italy for the World Cup in Russia next year.
In what was a very exciting and competitive match in which the referee had his work cut out, along with the Swedish defence.
In what can be described as a defensive masterclass, the Swedes fought tooth and nail to defend their slender lead in a game where conceding would have completely changed the dynamic.
In particular for the final 20 minutes, the Swedes had to battle away attack after attack from the Italian, who if nothing else, were valiant.
There was several time where the Italians came very close, with Ciro Immobile coming close twice, including a goal line clearance, both of these were set up by Brazilian born Jorginho, in only his third appearance for Italy, who in hindsight would have come in handy in the first leg.
El Shaarawy also came very close and his thumping strike close to the end took a great save from Swedish number one, Robin Olsen, to keep qualification secure. El Shaarawy was commendable with his performance in the closing minutes, spearheading the Italians attack as the game came to an end, creating move after move in desperate attempt to get through.
He along with the rest of the Italians, were bombarding the Swedish defence and in fairness, looked as if they the could have scored at any moment, however, a draw was simply not enough this time and the game ended as it had started, leaving the Swedish fans delighted, while the Italians were left heartbroken.
It was clear that the problem wasn’t as much a problem of quantity in the attack for Italy, 616but quality, with no player really there to bring that spark of magic that has been a token of the Italian team for as long as can be remembered. It is clear that this will be need to remedied if they want to pose a threat in the future.
This will be the first time in over 50 years that Italy have failed to reach the finals and the players felt the disappointment, many left the field in tears and will face the history books as only the second Italian team ever to not qualify.
It is a particularly crushing blow for captain Gianluigi Buffon, who announced retirement after the match after 20 years between the sticks and will now end his illustrious international career on a low.
However, this is to take nothing away from the Swedes, who performed fantastically well defensively and even could have got a couple of their own. It’s true going forward on the counter attack they never really looked decisive in the second half, but posed more threat in the first and were denied two penalties, one of which was clean cut.
This is the third Swedish upset already so far in this competition, after already beating France in Stockholm and finishing above Netherlands. This certainly bodes well for the this new look Swedish team for next years competition, with the immortal figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic set to soon fade into history if they can continue to perform at such an impressive level without him.
Ultimately, we will see Sweden in Russia, while Italy will be left to nurse their wounds.