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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Italy's Gian Piero Ventura faults referee after 'undeserved defeat' to Sweden

Gab Marcotti rips into Gian Piero Ventura for saying Italy deserved better than their first-leg playoff defeat at Sweden.
Gian Piero Ventura says Italy will have plenty of opportunities to overcome Sweden's advantage and reach the World Cup.
A deflected Jakob Johansson goal gave Sweden a 1-0 win over Italy in the first leg of their World Cup playoff.

Gian Piero Ventura said Italy did not deserve their 1-0 defeat to Sweden in Friday's World Cup playoff first leg and placed blame on the referee for being too lenient.

Sweden substitute Jakob Johansson scored his first international goal shortly after the hour mark with a shot from the edge of the area that deflected in off Daniele De Rossi and wrong-footed goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy's best chance was a long effort from Matteo Darmian that squarely hit the post in the 70th minute, but their only other significant chance was Andrea Belotti off-target header six minutes in.

But Ventura thought his team were the better side after enjoying 64 percent of possession, though Italy only outshot their hosts 10-8.

"Considering what happened on the field, it was an undeserved defeat," the coach told Rai Sport. "Gigi Buffon didn't have a save to make, we had chances and hit the woodwork."

Ventura was also critical of Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir for allowing Sweden to be too physical -- defender Leonardo Bonucci said his nose was broken in the opening minute -- but the coach remained confident of Italy's chances in Monday's second leg at Milan's San Siro.

"I hope in Milan they allow us what the referee allowed them, because in such an important game with so much at stake, you can't take that approach," he said.

"But that's not a justification. A draw was the minimum we could've aimed for considering the two performances. I repeat, at this level, the referee needed to be more attentive.

"Now we just need to get a result. We knew it was to be played over 180 minutes, I don't think this is the correct result over the 90 minutes, but we can turn it around. San Siro can help us, but we need to take San Siro in hand too."

Andrea Belotti missed an early header wide and Italy lost 1-0 in Sweden.

Bonucci told Sky Sport Italia that Ola Toivonen fractured his nose and said he was surprised Sweden finished the game with 10 men.

"He broke my nose after 30 seconds and should've been sent off," the defender said. "There's not much you can say other than that. A referee with greater character would've sent off at least one of the Swedish players."

Italy have participated in every World Cup since failing to qualify for the 1958 tournament, which coincidentally was held in Sweden. The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.

Making matters more complicated for Italy was that creative midfielder Marco Verratti picked up a yellow card that will rule him out of the return match.

"We need to learn from the mistakes we made tonight," Bonucci said. "I'm expecting a great match at the San Siro and for Italy to go to the World Cup. We've got to play the match of our lives.''

Italy have scored only three goals in their past five matches and haven't found the net in two of those games.

"We have to be quicker on the ball," Bonucci said. "In the return leg, we have to really fight. They played a very physical game but we can't make excuses."

The Swedes disagreed that they were the ones guilty of brinkmanship in their capital city, with Marcus Berg instead claiming De Rossi was busy trying to get him sent off.

"The Italians obviously wanted me to be dismissed, they fell over whenever they could," he told Aftonbladet. "I don't think they pulled it off very well. I knew there would be war tonight and it will be a damn war on Monday."

Defender Ludwig Augustinsson added: "They fell over a lot, they were doing their usual tricks. If any team played dirtier than the other, it was Italy."

Match-winner Johansson had the final word, saying: "The Italians try to play the tough guy. It's part of the mental side of the game to be able to resist that and focus on what we're supposed to be doing. We succeeded today."

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