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The hitman was sent off against the hosts, although his side still managed to win.

Italy and Sweden squared off in the second match of the group stage at this year’s U-21 European Championships, in a contest that was absolutely crucial, particularly for the Italians.

After being held to a disappointing scoreless draw with Serbia just a few days prior, the Azzurrini desperately needed the three points in this clash against the hosts to give themselves a good chance of progressing further in the competition.

They managed to do exactly that, as two goals either side of the break from Mario Balotelli and Robert Acquafresca, ensured that they recorded a 2-1 victory, with the Swedes netting a consolation just two minutes from time.

To make matters even tougher for the Italians, the scorer of the opening goal, Balotelli, was sent off in the latter stages of the first half for a poor challenge. Thankfully for his sake though, his team-mates held firm and went on to win the match.

“The referee was already angry before I made that challenge, so I knew straight after that a red card would be shown,” Balotelli explained in an interview reported by Corriere dello Sport.

“The team had to play with ten men from there, but luckily they did fantastic, so I must praise my brave comrades for their efforts today.”

The Azzurrini face Belarus in their final group stage encounter on Tuesday, in a match that they will certainly be confident of recording another win.

Adrian Del Monte, Goal.com

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