Conte surprised as Italy march on in Euro

Toulouse (France) (AFP) – Italy coach Antonio Conte admitted his surprise Friday as the beaten 2012 finalists continued their dream start to Euro 2016 by marching into the last 16 of the competition.

An 88th minute strike from Brazil-born striker Eder, one of Italy’s most disappointing players in an otherwise forgettable opening period, handed Conte’s men a 1-0 win over Sweden after star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to spark for the Scandinavians.

In doing so, Italy ended a 16-year wait to win their second game at a major finals — the last time they managed to do so was at Euro 2000 when they reached the final only to fall to David Trezeguet’s golden goal winner for France.

Italy, looking to rebuild after two consecutive group stage exits at the World Cup, now have two straight wins after their impressive 2-0 victory over highly-fancied Belgium in Lyon. 

But even Conte admitted even he was surprised at his side’s positive start. 

“That was a great win,” Chelsea-bound Conte said after the game. “We won a really difficult and physical game in tough conditions.

“Sweden were, in technical terms, very tough to deal with in the first half, but we came out after the interval with a bit more zip to our game and we didn’t concede anything to them.

“The lads were a little nervous, but that disappeared. No one would have expected us to be in this position after our first two games.”

Italy now top Group E with six points, leaving Sweden, who had late claims for a penalty waved away, realistically needing to beat Belgium on Wednesday if they are to have any hope of making it to the knockout phase.

Anything other than a Republic of Ireland win over Belgium on Saturday will ensure that Italy win the group.

After a mediocre display in Sweden’s 1-1 draw with Ireland, all eyes were on captain Ibrahimovic as the towering striker sought to make his mark by becoming the first man to score in four editions of the competition.

But led by Juventus stalwart Giorgio Chiellini, the Italian defence stuck to its task of limiting the big striker’s chances.

Sweden’s best chance of the first half fell to Celta Vigo’s John Guidetti only for the striker to skew wide.

Sweden’s only goal so far came from Ciaran Clark’s own goal for Ireland last week, and coach Erik Hamren admitted they have little choice but to improve for their final group match against the Belgians.

“It was very difficult for us to score against such a well organised and strong defence,” he said.

“All I can say is we have to keep working hard and keep on trying.”

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