Porto: Italy are in danger of crashing out of Euro 2004 at the first hurdle after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Sweden in a pulsating Group C match. Sweden tops the group on goal difference even though they and Denmark have four points from two matches, while Italy is third with two points. Even a win in their final group game against the already-eliminated Bulgaria on Tuesday may not be enough for Italy to finish in the top two and reach the last eight from Group C. A cheeky back-heeled goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic five minutes from time salvaged a point for the Swedes after Antonio Cassano's first-half header had given Italy the lead. Italy rues missed chances Italy, playing without the suspended Francesco Totti, will be kicking themselves that they didn't put away a hatful of chances. Totti received a three-match ban from UEFA on Thursday for spitting in the face of Christian Poulsen in their goalless opening match against Denmark and will only play again in Euro 2004 if the Azzurri reach the semi-finals. AC Milan playmaker Andrea Pirlo was brought in to bring some creative flair to the midfield, while Totti's Roma team-mate Cassano was employed as a withdrawn striker. Gennaro Gattuso, who also plays for AC Milan, replaced Cristiano Zanetti to add bite in the holding midfielder role. Sweden made one change to the team that thrashed Bulgaria 5-0 with the injured Teddy Lucic replaced by Christian Wilhelmsson. Italy, who beat the Scandinavians 2-1 in their last meeting in the group stages at Euro 2000, were first to threaten with Christian Vieri's close-range shot blocked by Andreas Isaksson in the third minute. The Swedish keeper was in action three minutes later, diving low to keep out Simone Perrotta's drive before Ibrahimovic ran onto Henrik Larsson's crafty back-heel and fired over the bar in the Swedes' first attack. Sweden strikes back Sweden responded in the 27th minute, Fredrik Ljungberg stopped in his tracks by Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon and seconds later Isaksson's outstretched fingers prevented Del Piero's shot from finding the bottom corner. The same combination that provided Italy with the opening goal almost extended their lead, Cassano's header from Panucci's cross lacking any power and Isaksson saved comfortably. Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro, making his 80th appearance for the Azzurri, also earned a one-match suspension when was booked a minute into the second-half before Vieri's volley sped past the post. Del Piero's cheeky lob was stopped a yard from the goal line before Cannavaro almost put past his own keeper as he intercepted Swedish substitute Mathias Jonson's cross. Sweden though refused to give up and a counter attack caught the Italian defence flat-footed but Gianluigi Buffon who had kept the Great Danes at Bay was at his best once again. Sweden's persistence though finally paid off in the 85th minute as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his second goal of the tournament. The final result 1-1 but the Italians will go into their final game against Bulgaria knowing even a win might not be enough to keep the EURO 2000 runners-up in the tournament.
Topics : Football