The in-form hosts square off against the Italians in a crucial clash for both sides in Helsingborg.
Chance To Progress
Sweden’s comprehensive 5-1 demolition of Belarus in their opening match of the 2009 U-21 European championships has left them in a commanding position atop of Group A. Their next task is Italy, a clash which if they do manage to emerge victorious, will confirm their progression to the final four of the competition.
It will be a massive task for the hosts against a nation who has lifted this trophy on five separate occasions, however if they are to play with similar levels of intensity and determination as they did in the final 60 minutes of their match against the Belarusians, then anything will be possible.
That match against Belarus happened to be the nation’s first competitive contest at this level in over two years, as they had already qualified as hosts for this tournament. Despite going through 70 different players over this time, the Swedes looked a settled and solid unit when they joined forces midweek.
They will take some confidence into this match, knowing that they did manage to hold the Azzurrini to a draw the last time these two sides met, however that will mean for nothing when the teams enter the playing field on Friday.
With so much up for grabs for Sweden, it will be interesting to see how they approach this encounter, however again, if they are to reproduce the quality they showed in the second half against Belarus just days ago, then they will prove to be an extremely difficult obstacle to overcome for a star studded Italian line-up.
Fate In Italy’s Hands
Italy were very disappointing in their opening match of the 2009 U-21 European Championships, as they could only manage a 0-0 draw with a resolute Serbian outfit. Despite fielding an impressive starting line-up, including the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Mario Balotelli and Robert Acquafresca, the Azzurrini were unable to break their opponents down.
The Italians are in a precarious position at present, as the loss of any points in this match could spell danger for them, heading into the final round of fixtures of the group stage.
If Serbia overcome Belarus as they are expected to, and the Azzurrini fail to claim all three points against the Swedes, then they will need to rely on other results in the third and final game to ensure their progression to the next phase of the competition.
Italy came into this tournament as the joint favourites alongside Spain and England, so if they were to fail to advance past the group stage, then that would certainly be yet another low point, in what is slowly becoming a dismal summer in the peninsula.
They are going in search of their sixth crown at this level, so if they wish to give themselves any hope of achieving that, then they must ensure they bring their best football to Helsingborg with them this Friday.
June 16 v Belarus (H) – WON 5-1
June 9 v Estonia (H) – WON 2-1
June 5 v Poland (H) – WON 2-1
March 31 v Spain (H) – DREW 0-0
March 27 v Finland (N) – WON 1-0
June 16 v Serbia (N) – DREW 0-0
June 8 v Denmark (H) – WON 4-0
October 15 v Israel (A) – WON 3-1
October 11 v Israel (H) – DREW 0-0
September 9 v Croatia (A) – DREW 1-1
The hosts came into the tournament with no injury concerns as you would expect, and this has not changed after one match. With this in mind, it is expected that the Swedes will start with the exact same line-up that got them over the line against Belarus, meaning that Ola Toivonen will partner Marcus Berg up front once again.
Possible Starting XI – (4-4-2): Dahlin; Lustig, Bjarsmyr, Bengtsson, Johansson; Elm, Svensson, Wernbloom, Bajrami; Toivonen, Berg.
Pierluigi Casiraghi has a wealth of talent at his disposal, and with no worries on the injury front either, the only worry to come out of the first match for the Azzurrini boss concerns who to play from the start in this clash. The Italians showed glimpses of their best football against Serbia, and with this in mind, they too should start with a similar looking line-up.
Possible Starting XI – (4-3-3): Consigli; Motta, Criscito, Bocchetti, De Ceglie; Marchisio, Cigarini, Dessena; Balotelli, Acquafresca, Giovinco.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sweden – Marcus Berg: The Groningen striker had an outstanding season at club level, scoring 13 times in a 15 match period at one stage of the campaign. He has certainly brought this form with him into the championships, after netting a well deserved hat-trick in the opening match against Belarus. Knowing this, the Azzurrini back four will be keen to keep the in-form hitman quiet in this match, to keep their title hopes alive.
Italy – Sebastian Giovinco: The pint-sized attacker was arguably his side’s most influential player up front against the Serbians. Despite missing a glorious one-on-one opportunity with the Serb keeper Brkic, the Juve man gave his all over the 90 minutes of play. He will be an example to follow for all of his team mates, as they take part in a contest that they simply can ill-afford to lose.
It will be a tough encounter for the two sides, as both will be determined to win for differing reasons. The Swedes can book their spot in the final four by recording the three points, whilst the Italians must bounce back from their disappointing effort against Serbia. The hosts will try to lockdown the Azzurrini, however I’m expecting the class of the visitors to show in this match, which will allow them to just get over the line.
Sweden 1-2 Italy
Adrian Del Monte, Goal.com