Taking an early and unexpected lead, Daniela Sabatino fired Italy ahead in the fouth minute, capitalising on a poor defensive knock-down from Linda Sembrant, the Azzurre proficient with their first attack.
Sweden, unsurprisingly, responded well and looked to get forward using Stina Blackstenius’ strength, the rangy attacker able to win a penalty just over ten minutes in. With her shirt being tugged and a tangle of feet Blackstenius tumbled in the box, Lotta Schelin calm from 12-yards to hammer the ball into the bottom left corner.
With parity restored, the game evened back out, Italy keen to impress and show Europe that their ability runs deeper than their disappointing results. For Sweden, they were back to looking disconnect, the midfield and defence unharmonized but balls through to Blackstenius and Schelin consistently looked fruitful. A ball whipped across the box by Kosovare Asllani twenty minutes in should have been the one to give Sweden the lead, Blackstenius unfathomably unable to connect in space in front of Laura Giuliani’s goal.
Italy look dangerous
A poor corner at one end saw Italy come away with the ball, Melania Gabbiadini chasing it down ahead of Hedvig Lindahl, Joanna Andersson’s intervention key. With the ball still alive, Barbara Bonansea fed it through to Gabbiadini, her backheel drifting millimetres of the far post. Gabbiadini was involved again, ten minutes before the break and she chased a longball, after burners fired as she dashed into the box, Lindahl’s parry of her shot dropping for Sabatino though the Brescia woman could only fire wide in a hurry.
A mazy run from Bonansea saw the attacker cut through midfield before taking aim for the top corner, Lindahl’s fingertips all to prevent the certain goal. Italy’s persistence paid off and they won a free kick in the afters of the goal, Sabatino grabbing her second of the game, volleying the deft cross across Lindahl’s goal.
With more possession and generally more useful with the ball, Italy continued to press and cut in Sweden, exposing them in a way they hadn’t so far in the Netherlands, their half-time lead well deserved.
Two changes at the break looked to give Blågult more presence in the match, the half-time inclusion of Fridolina Rolfö proving to be vital as she used her pace and strength to bring the ball to the by-line before firing across.
The ball poked home by former Linköping teammate, Blackstenius to level the scores once again, just two minutes into the second-half. Seeing far more of the ball, Sweden continued to probe, Rolfö denied a goal by the steely Italian defence who found themselves under pressure from consecutive corners. Schelin refused first before the ball moved from one side of the pitch to the other, reset in the quadrant as the Azzurre struggled to clear.
Even after clearing the initial danger, Italy were pinned back again, the ball sent in from the corner, Lisa Dahlkvist’s header behind Giuliani and cleared off of the line by Daniela Stracchi. But still Sweden came, set pieces their best outlets, Sembrant denied retribution as her header slipped just wide moments before Dahlkvist side-footed Schelin’s cross wide of the same post.
Following a lull in the game, Sweden ramped up the pressure again, another ball over the top was chased down by Rolfö on the right who once again, Blackstenius’ header clipping the far post. Pia Sundhage’s last roll of the dice, bringing on Julia Spetsmark for Olivia Schough to freshen the attack and look for a group-changing winner against Italy.
Off of the pace in the second-half but still driven on through the inspired Bonansea Italy once more took the lead. Her cross-cum-shot arcing across the face for Cristiana Girelli to volley into the open net at the far post. Bonansea back at it again moments later to take aim from just outside the area, Lindahl scrambling as the ball bounced narrowly wide.
Italy’s third goal gave them another run of pace, not just looking to hold onto their lead but extend it as the seconds ticked by, hungry for their first win of the tournament, their hard work paying off as they saw the win out. For Sweden the loss isn’t what they would have wanted but with Germany beating Russia elsewhere in the Netherlands their safe route to the knock-outs was confirmed.