A goal and a sending off was the sub-total of Mario Balotelli's contributions this afternoon as Italy ousted Sweden in the European under-21 championships. Robert Acquafresca added to Italy's lead before Sweden pulled a late goal back through Ola Toivonen.
Following a lively start from Sweden, Italy settled into the encounter and Mario Balotelli made himself the chief protagonist of the affair.
The hosts were almost off to a flyer when Salvatore Bochetti's short back-pass gave Marcus Berg the chance to round Andrea Consigli in the opening moments; the Groningen striker was unable to capitalise however.
Mikael Lustig, who was a marauding presence for Sweden throughout, then header narrowly over from a corner. The same player would provide one of many crosses for Berg, who couldn't finish, as the Scandinavians registered their third chance in only three minutes.
Also lively for the hosts was Emir Bajrami; he had a series of half chances in the first period, firing a range finder over before a deflected Rasmus Elm free-kick gave Consigli his first meaningful save.
Around the quarter-hour mark though, a glimpse was given into the ample talent at the Italy attacking end. Balotelli's back-heel allowed Sebastien Giovinco to feed Robert Acquafresca his first chance, but Johan Dahlin smothered it in a flash before the Genoa man could score.
An open game saw another goalscoring opportunity soon after when Paolo De Ceglie crossed from the left for Acquafresca, who did well to nod on target.
Italy's status as the dominant force in the encounter was confirmed on 23 minutes. Giovinco plucked a ball from the sky in midfield and chipped a glorious through-ball to Balotelli. He sold a dummy to two defenders and turned inside onto his right-foot, curling a sumptuous effort past the grip of Dahlin.
Giovinco, with his inventiveness, then provided a moment of sublime skill, chipping a 60 yard effort onto the roof of the net as Italian confidence grew.
Follwing another fluffed Bejrami chance came Balotelli's moment of shame. An overzealous challenge on Pontus Wernbloom in the 36th minute was followed with a retaliatory kick which left the referee no choice but to administer a red card. The game had acquired a sour taste at that stage, a clutch of Swedish bookings left the tie on the brink of simmering over.
Before the break, with the numerical advantage, Sweden almost equalised. Lustig's cross found Bajrami, whose chest control gave him the chance to volley over.
The Swedes started brightly in the second period, with some nice link up play between Ola Toivonen and Berg providing a chance for the latter to drag a shot wide.
However, Italy were to double their money soon after the break. Giovinco won a free-kick on the right wing and took it himself. The resultant cross allowed Acquafresca to rise unchallenged and nod his team two to the good.
Sweden were not to be discouraged though, with Toivonen going close twice in minute. First, capitalising on a Andreolli mistake, the PSV man shot off target before volleying an Elm knock-down well wide.
Elm was growing in stature too and forced Consigli into action on the hour with a well-aimed low drive.
Even with a man less, the Italians managed to hold Sweden at bay well. The hosts did manage to push the ball wide, but more often than not, crosses from Elm and Lustig went unrewarded.
The team in yellow continued to press and were given an added dimension with the introduction of Martin Olsson with 20 minutes to play. Lustig's cross to the Blackburn man almost yielded a goal, but his header flew narrowly off target.
The same player's knock-down to Wernbloom presented another good chance for the Swedes, and the lively attacker forced two saves from Consigli before a consolation was forthcoming.
A fine pass from Bjasmyr in the 88th minute was dummied by Wernbloom and Elm's deft through-ball gave Toivonen the chance to rattle a finish past Consigli for a really neat team goal.
Try as they might, Sweden couldn't find a leveller, as Italy hung on to take the advantage in the group.
Sweden: Dahlin; Lustig, Bjasmyr, Bengtsson, Johansson; Elm, Svensson (Harbuzi 65'), Wernbloom; Bajrami (Olsson 65'), Toivonen, Berg
Italy: Consigli; Motta, Andreolli, Bochetti, Criscito; Cigarini, De Ceglie, Marchisio (Dessena 86'); Giovinco (Abate 61'), Balotelli, Acquafresca (Rannochia)
Sweden Toivonen 88'
Italy: Balotelli 23', Acquafresca 52'
Peter Staunton, Goal.com