Sweden withstands Italian offensive to book place at Russia World Cup

Sweden held out for a goalless draw against four-time world champions Italy in the playoffs to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2006.

Jakob Johansson’s deflected strike in the first leg ultimately decided the tie in the Swedes’ favour, with his side’s only ambition was to repel at any cost the waves of attacks rolling towards them at San Siro.

They were able to endure despite Italy dominating proceedings at home in both possession and attempts, with Azzurri striker Ciro Immobile missing a number of chances and his low effort in the first half was cleared off the line by Swedish skipper and centre-back Andreas Granqvist.

Both sides could also have been awarded penalties: first with Ludwig Augustinsson bringing down Marco Parolo with a clumsy challenge while Matteo Darmian and Juventus veteran Andrea Barzagli were fortunate to escape with handballs for Italy.

Shortly after the game where Granqvist saw his team explode in celebrations, he was seen sporting a new haircut because of a promise made earlier in the qualifying campaign.

“I said to the lads in the dressing room that if we got to the World Cup they could shave it off,” he told reporters, smiling. “I thought they had forgotten it, but John Guidetti and Victor Lindelof shaved it off straight away,”

While Sweden celebrated at the sound of the final whistle, it was the end of an era for a number of Italian players as they retire from international duty.

Most prominent among them was team captain Gianluigi Buffon, who earned his 175th cap for Italy with the game and the 39-year-old goalkeeper confirmed it was his last international appearance, having announced his decision to retire from football at the end of the season.

“It is upsetting that my last match decided we didn’t qualify for the World Cup,” Buffon said. “I’m sorry. Not for me but for Italy. We blew something that could have meant so much. The only regret is that it ended like this.”

“The blame is divided equally among all of us. There must be no scapegoats. We win together and we lose together.”

“There’s definitely a future, because we have pride and strength,” he finally added. “We’re stubborn and hard-headed. After ugly falls we find a way to rise back up. A lot of these kids are talented, including Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mattia Perin. I wish them a lot of luck.”

Buffon was in goal for Italy when they won the World Cup for the fourth time in 2006.

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