Substitute Johansson gives Sweden early advantage over Italy

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It’s not exactly a mountain to climb, but Italy still has its work cut out for themselves after falling on Friday.

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Sweden earned an important 1-0 victory over Italy at the Friends Arena, giving the Swedes an important lead heading into next week’s second leg.

The hosts were on the back foot for much of the match, but second-half substitute Jakob Johansson gave the home side the lead in the 61st minute after his shot from outside the box was deflected and in past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy nearly found an equalizer 10 minutes later when Matteo Darmian struck a brilliant shot off the post, but the Azzurri couldn’t find the back of the net.

The Italians received some bad news in the first half after Marco Verratti picked up a yellow card around the half-hour mark, and made him ineligible for the second leg between the two nations due to accumulation of bookings.

Andrea Belotti nearly gave the visitors an early lead on five minutes when his free header glanced just wide of the left post.

Sweden and Italy will meet once again in Milan on Monday at the San Siro with a place in the World Cup on the line.