Italy risks missing World Cup after losing to Sweden 1-0

SOLNA, Sweden (AP) Four-time champion Italy was left at serious risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup after losing at Sweden 1-0 in the opening leg of their playoff on Friday.

Substitute Jakob Johansson scored shortly after the hour mark with a shot from the edge of the area that deflected in off Daniele De Rossi. After a long throw-in, Ola Toivonen headed the ball out to Johansson and his deflected drive wrong-footed goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The Azzurri created few chances at Friends Arena outside Stockholm and were fortunate not to concede more goals after allowing Sweden a series of free kicks early on.

Italy’s best opportunity was a long effort from Matteo Darmian that squarely hit the post in the 70th. The Azzurri’s only other significant chance was a header from Andrea Belotti six minutes in.

Sweden imposed itself with its physicality and playmaker Emil Forsberg proved especially dangerous with his passing skills, setting up numerous opportunities.

Early in the second half, Italy became outraged at Sweden’s physicality, protesting for yellow cards at perceived excessive contact. But Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir said to play on.

Making matters more complicated for Italy was that creative midfielder Marco Verratti picked up a yellow card that will rule him out of the return match on Monday at Milan’s San Siro.

Italy has participated in every World Cup since failing to qualify for the 1958 tournament, which coincidentally was held in Sweden.

The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.

While Sweden didn’t compete in the last two World Cups, it impressed in qualifying with a win over France and finished ahead of the Netherlands in its group.