Football

Italy ready for Ibrahimovic

Azzurri ready to neutralise threat of Swedish superstar

GROUP E

ITALY v SWEDEN
(Tonight, 8.50pm, Singtel TV Ch 142 & 
StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)

He terrorised opposition defences in Serie A for seven seasons, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic will face stiff resistance to his efforts to rescue Sweden's Euro 2016 campaign against Italy tonight.

"Zlatan can put a whole team under pressure by himself, but we have to concentrate on our own game ... and try to limit their strengths," Lazio winger Antonio Candreva said.

After a frustrating 1-1 draw with Republic of Ireland in which Ibrahimovic failed to sparkle despite playing a decisive role in Ciaran Clark's late own-goal, the Swedes are under pressure ahead of the Group E clash in Toulouse.

A defeat would leave the Scandinavians needing to beat Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world, in their last group game and hope they get among the four best third-placed group finishers to sneak into the last 16.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren is already dubious.

"Even though we managed to come back and equalise, I am disappointed. We will need to play at 300 per cent to get through," he said after their opening draw.

TALISMAN

Sweden will really need their talisman Ibrahimovic to show up against the Azzurri.

One of the most feared strikers in the world, Ibrahimovic's ability to produce moments of scoring magic has delighted fans for the past decade.

He hit 11 goals for Sweden in their qualifying campaign, only two shy of Poland's Robert Lewandowski and, with the pressure now on the towering striker, Italy coach Antonio Conte has sounded a warning.

"I like Ibra a lot, above all when he plays for the national team. He's got plenty of character, and he leads by example," said the Italy handler.

"He's become even stronger over the past few years, and he's still progressing. He's a very strong player who can destabilise a whole team."

Ibrahimovic's talents on the pitch are only exceeded by his penchant for self-promotion off it.

Although tonight's game would be the perfect occasion for Ibra to defy his detractors, Italy won't relinquish their new-found confidence easily.

Italy, who have suffered first-round exits from the past two editions of the World Cup, were written off before the competition.

But, after a deserved 2-0 win over Group E favourites Belgium, the Azzurri are brimming with belief.

"Before the Euro, all the newspapers said we wouldn't get past the first round, that we didn't have technically gifted players," said Roma's Alessandro Florenzi.

"A lot of unfounded claims were made. Now, after one game, people are starting to believe in us again." 
- AFP.

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