Italy progress to Euro 2016 knockout phase with narrow Sweden win
Italy 1-0 Sweden
Italy have beaten Sweden 1-0 in Toulouse to secure their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2016.
A fine 88th-minute finish from Eder was enough to secure victory in an otherwise uninspiring game that leaves Sweden on the brink of elimination - although unambitious performances from either side did little to deserve more than the goalless draw that almost unfolded.
First-placed Italy have a total of six points from two games and third-placed Sweden have one; the Republic of Ireland or Belgium could yet climb clear of Sweden depending on the outcome of their match on Saturday.
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The Italians, who defeated Ireland 2-0 at the last European Championships, face them again on Wednesday when Sweden meet Belgium. Two further teams could yet progress to the second round.
Italy had been criticised before the competition but they had produced perhaps the finest performance of any side so far when they overcame Belgium 2-0.
Sweden, meanwhile, had been unimpressive in their 1-1 draw with Ireland, when only Ciaran Clark's second-half own goal prevented them falling to defeat.
In that context Italy were expected to again win, but during an uninspiring opening 45 minutes it was Sweden who played with greater intent and who justified previous concerns surrounding Italy's quality.
Manager Erik Hamren had responded to their disappointing performance against Ireland by replacing Marcus Berg with John Guidetti and Albin Ekdal with Oscar Lewicki. An injury to Mikael Lustig also meant a starting place for Erik Johansson, and overall they improved.
Yet as has been the case for much of the past decade, the form of Zlatan Ibrahimovic represented their greatest chance of victory.
It did much to capture the nature of their game that the forward wasted what appeared their finest chance midway through the second half. A left-wing cross made its way through Italy's penalty area but, despite space from directly in front of goal, he somehow missed the target and was saved from disappointment only by being ruled offside.
Italy threatened in the 82nd minute, when Marco Parolo headed Emanuele Giaccherini's cross against the crossbar.
With a draw looking inevitable, substitute Simone Zaza then headed towards Eder, and the striker classily dribbled through Sweden's defence before equally impressively finishing beyond goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson.
Sweden had a stoppage-time penalty appeal dismissed, and Italy held out.
Belfast Telegraph Digital