A wonderful Zlatan Ibrahimov goal two minutes from time earned Sweden a 1-1 draw against Italy in an enthralling encounter in the Dragao stadium. Italy led through a first half Antonio Cassano goal and should have put the game beyond the Swedes reach but for some wasteful finishing.
It was a pulsating encounter and Italy will regret their inability to convert a number of first half chances against an adventurous Sweden team.
With Cassano in for the suspended Totti, Italy produced a positive start, creating numerous chances in the opening period during which they began to justify their status as one of the tou.
On eight minutes Gattuso’s shot was well saved by Isaksson as Giovanni Trapattoni’s team took the game to Sweden.
Further chances were to fall to Vieri, Del Piero and Cassano but a combination of Isaksson combined with some poor finishing by the Italians, kept the scores level.
Zambrotta was proving to be an effective force down the left flank and from one such surge he set up Vieri but the Inter man headed over.
Italy had to wait until 38 minutes before their superiority was translated into a goal. Panucci, did well on the right cutting inside to deliver a clever near post cross which was deftly converted by Cassano’s glancing header.
Trapattoni’s team could have doubled their lead within a minute when the same duo combined again but this time Cassano’s header was smothered by the busy Isaksson.
As the half time whistle blew, Sweden looked relieved to have escaped the half only trailing by one goal. Italy had been completely dominant but they were to rue the missed chances.
After the break, the tireless Gattuso continued to force Italy forward but it was noticeable that the chances were not coming as frequently as they had before the interval.
As the half wore on, Italy became more circumspect in their play, appearing content to persevere their lead rather than extend it. Del Piero and the goalscorer Cassano were withdrawn in favour of the more defensive-minded Camoranesi and Fiore.
Sweden, sensed the fear in their opponents and began to raise their game. Twice Larsson did well to set up Jonson but on each occasion the opportunity was squandered.
As Italy’s defending became more frantic, Sweden gained in confidence and it came as no great surprise when their endeavours were rewarded three minutes from time.
The goal came from a corner and with Italy unable to clear, Ibrahimovic swivelled to produce a wonderful back flick which cleared Vieri on the line. It was a fantastic finish and worthy of earning a point.
Italy will regret retreating to their shell in a match which appeared to be theirs for the taking. Sweden meanwhile, have shown that their opening match 5-0 win over Bulgaria was no fluke, and look a genuine force at these championships.
Italy 1-1 Sweden
– ItalyAntonio Cassano 37
Italy:1-Gianluigi Buffon; 2-Christian Panucci, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 5-Fabio Cannavaro, 19-Gianluca Zambrotta; 8-Gennaro Gattuso (15-Giuseppe Favalli 76), 21-Andrea Pirlo, 20-Simone Perrotta; 18-Antonio Cassano (14-Stefano Fiore 70), 7-Alessandro Del Piero (16-Mauro Camoranesi 82), 9-Christian Vieri.
Sweden: 1-Andreas Isaksson; 7-Mikael Nilsson, 3-Olof Mellberg, 15-Andreas Jakobsson, 5-Erik Edman (20-Marcus Allback 77); 21-Christian Wilhelmsson (18-Mattias Jonson 67), 6-Tobias Linderoth, 8-Anders Svensson (16-Kim Kallstrom 55), 9-Fredrik Ljungberg; 10-Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 11-Henrik Larsson.
Referee: Urs Meier (Switzerland)