Italy vs Sweden by Sweem
The second round of the group E is underway and it is between two teams who received very different comments after their games. Italy have become the new Euro-pet and with their experience and gritty play, they are rightfully a sneaky underdog for the title, and it was an exceptional performance against Belgium. Sweden unlocked an achievement only a goalie could like, by not managing a single shot on target during 90 minutes against Ireland, but still stole a point in the opener and overall looked very pale - like we expect Nordic teams to look in general, very stereotypical.
Italy did what they do better than anyone - tactically outclass their opponent and lock down defensively. It's clever, it's experienced and more importantly, it works. Belgium were incredibly hyped ahead of the tournament but have now received a reality check thanks to the Italians who deserve all credit for their performance. Opening games consist of a lot of nerves, and the tempo usually suffers because of the importance of not losing the first match.
The three points will definitely make Italy play more calm and relaxed since they have a solid grip of the group at this stage and will now enter one of the weaker teams in the group. They handled the pressure of the dangerous Belgian team, but will they react differently against Sweden who will be more offensive than against Ireland? Moreover, Italy can perform without the same pressure of getting a result this time. The transition game from defense to offense is one of the biggest strengths of the Italian side.
We don't even need to get into the player material, because we could see Graziano Pelle and Antonio Candreva finding several combinations between each other. The Italians will be able to field the same team as against Belgium if they opt for that. It will be a competitive game regardless of lineups. The Swedes can match the Italians physically and by height - while the Italian side have the technique and tactical knowledge in their favor. Where does that takes us? We will see.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden received massive criticism from domestic papers after their horrible performance against Ireland. No shot on target in 90 minutes, without the ability to put together a string of passes on the offensive end did not scare the Italians nor the Belgians at all. The truth is that the point was stolen, and not earned. However, it has put Sweden in a good spot and their chances are still alive.
We have already seen the worst part of Sweden, and it cannot get any worse at this stage - the performance can only be better and with the current glimpse of hope, expect the key players to step up and grab the opportunity. The Swedes realistically needs three points, but their main focus is not to lose. With a stingy defensive structure and a more offensive lineup than previous, they can challenge the Italian defense.
Emil Forsberg on the same flank as Martin Olsson was a positive glimpse, as both players came forward many times against Ireland and put the Irish defense against the wall on occasions. Sweden have only lost 5 of their last 20 international matches (all fixtures) and only one of these losses happened in the last 11 matches. It shows that it's a very gritty team unit, who might not be creative or possess much flair or fancy players - but it's effective, and it shuts many teams down, and it's a very underrated ability.
In that sense, they are very similar to the Italian style of play, except that Italy have more to show for on paper. Injury wise, right back Mikael Lustig will likely sit out against Italy.
I am not a fan of public bets, and this is certainly one of them, when something looks too good to be true, it usually is. It makes full sense to back Italy based on seeing both teams openers, absolutely - but this is more of a low risk and high reward way of thinking. Sometimes you need to dare to think outside of the box and let's face it, Sweden are not as bad as they showed in the opener. I am not biased when analyzing games, or else I would have bet on Sweden against Ireland or praised them in every paragraph.
There is a lot of domestic pressure on this Swedish team and regardless of how bad things have looked, they generally fare well from an underdog position when playing with less pressure. I fully understand the Italian favorite-stamp, but I sense that the dog can bite in this one and find good value in thinking outside of the ordinary here. A shared point would not be the end of the world for either side and is therefore a reasonable play in my eyes.