'We will still qualify' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 12, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:03 PM, November 12, 2017

'We will still qualify'

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura insisted Saturday that the four-time champions will still make the 2018 World Cup finals despite a 1-0 loss to Sweden in the first leg of their play-off.

Substitute Jakob Johansson grabbed the only goal of a scrappy game in the 61st minute with a low strike that found the corner with the aid of a big deflection to leave Italy in danger of missing the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.

"I feel so strongly that we will qualify because I saw the players in the dressing room and they were angry," said Ventura who now must turn the tie around in the do-or-die second leg in Milan on Monday. "They know they can do better. It was a physical match which surprised us but we are going to do better."

The last time Italy failed to reach the World Cup was for the 1958 tournament in Sweden, but Ventura's side were already under pressure going into the tie after a disappointing end to their Group G campaign that featured a 3-0 loss in Spain and a 1-1 home draw with Macedonia.

Italy have to beat Sweden by two goals in the return leg on Monday in Milan to avoid what the head of the federation Carlo Tavecchio has dubbed the 'Apocalypse'.

Gazzetta dello Sport described their display in Sweden as 'poor and confused' and Tuttosport said 'enough of excuses, now we have to avoid a historic embarrassment'.

"There are still 90 minutes left to play," aded Ventura. "It was a tough, physical match that could have gone a different way if we scored first.

"The performance of the referee was good overall, but I think that he allowed the match to be physical at the expense of technique... He probably didn't have complete control of the match."

Captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who will be hoping to make what will certainly be his final World Cup next year, preached patience to his troops and asked them not to panic.

"We need to be as clear-headed as possible to go to the World Cup," said Buffon. "We know we've lost, but we have another 90 minutes to overcome this complicated situation. The first rule is not to cry over it," he told TMW radio.

"I expect a full San Siro to carry this team through, I don't want to think it's the game of life, but I'm convinced that with the help of the public we will do it. We must be confident Monday, otherwise we have already lost."

Italy suffered a blow when key midfielder Marco Verratti was handed a booking that ruled him out of Monday's second leg for a lunging tackle on Marcus Berg.

A scrappy game was never likely to be decided by a moment of brilliance, and it was a lucky break that gave Janne Andersson's men the lead just after the hour mark.

Johansson latched onto Toivonen's header from an Emil Krafth long throw to fire a shot that wrong-footed Buffon after spinning off Daniele de Rossi.

"It's fantastic, I put my goal down to instinct. Great timing for my first international goal," Johansson said.

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