Italy advances to last 16 with 1-0 win over Sweden

TOULOUSE, France (AP) — Eder’s late goal gave Italy a 1-0 win over Sweden on Friday and a spot in the round of 16 at the European Championship as Italy’s defense once again stood tall.

The Brazilian-born striker curled the ball into the bottom right corner in the 88th minute after substitute Simone Zaza headed on a long throw-in from Giorgio Chiellini.

“It was a great goal,” Eder said. “It reminds me of my first goal for Italy. It was in the qualifying stages against Bulgaria. I dummied and the ball went in and I’m delighted.

“The small details make a big difference. The fact that that goal came from a throw-in makes me even more pleased.”

Italy opened the tournament with a 2-0 win over Belgium. Now with six points, it is assured of a spot in the next round no matter what happens in the team’s final Group E match against Ireland on Wednesday in Lille.

Italy had few chances throughout the match, although it had threatened minutes before Eder’s goal when Marco Parolo headed Emanuele Giaccherini’s cross off the crossbar.

Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was once again kept quiet. Whenever Ibrahimovic had the ball in the middle, Italian defenders swarmed around him. The striker did have a chance in the first half but he headed a free kick wide of the near post.

“We knew that Ibrahimovic was the number one enemy,” said Andrea Barzagli, a key part of the Italy defense which has not conceded so far this tournament.

“We kept an eye on him, we didn’t leave anything to chance because he can create something at any moment. Luckily we kept him in check well.”

Chiellini was also key in stifling Ibrahimovic. The former Juventus teammates dueled throughout the match, right from the beginning when the pair went for Kim Kallstrom’s dangerous cross and Chiellini made a headed clearance.

“Everything was fine between Chiellini and I, otherwise he would be in hospital,” Ibrahimovic said after.

“Against a team like Italy you need to be focused for 90 minutes.”

Italy coach Antonio Conte said it was a major accomplishment to have reached the knockout stages with a game to spare, especially because many had written off the side before the tournament.

“We are very pleased,” Conte said. “I think very few people would have envisaged that we would have been in the last 16 after just two matches. It’s a huge achievement. The players deserve the credit.”

Sweden, which has not had a shot on goal in either of its matches, has one point and will next face Belgium. It also faces the possibility that having already qualified, Italy may rest players for its final group match.

“Of course I’m disappointed, as are the players at this moment in time,” Sweden coach Erik Hamren said. “If we look at the match, I think we played very well. We defended well, and we really succeeded in closing down the Italian players.

“It’s just toward the end of the match that we lost concentration.”

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Associated Press writer Frank Griffiths contributed to this report.

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