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Sweden co-coach Lars Lagerbäck praised the "strength and technique" of Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the AFC Ajax forward struck five minutes from time to earn a vital 1-1 draw against Italy in Friday's Group C encounter at the Estàdio do Dragão.
Ibrahimovic's opportunist goal ensured Sweden remain top of Group C with four points, ahead of Denmark on goal difference, although the result seemed improbable after a first half that was completely dominated by an Italy side coping well without the suspended Francesco Totti.
Totti's replacement, Antonio Cassano, justified his selection with an inventive performance that was capped off by a headed goal on 37 minutes, but Ibrahimovic had the last say to leave Lagerbäck delighted.
"In scoring a goal like that Zlatan showed just how strong he is and just how good his technique is," said the coach. "It is marvellous and shows what a quality player he is."
Grew in stature
Lagerbäck conceded that his side were under pressure for long periods but was thrilled with the manner in which they finished the game. "We didn't start very well," he went on. "It was the same as against Bulgaria. But I think we grew as the match went on.
"In the second half we played much better and, in the end, created some chances. Of course we gambled in the last 20 minutes. We wanted [Marcus] Allbäck to play up front, [Henrik] Larsson had a free role and dropped back behind the centre-forwards, and that gave more space to Zlatan and Marcus. We got a little lucky but it paid off."
Ibrahimovic, who won the Carlsberg Man of the Match award, said: "It's hard to describe how I feel. When I saw the ball going in I was on another planet. The goal means we got one point and we are still leading the group.
"We made too many easy mistakes during the first half, then in the second half we held the ball and attacked with five players. We had much more movement in the team and we created more chances and finally we put one in."
The tall striker admitted that he had enjoyed some luck for the goal. "
It was an incredible goal," he said. “It was one of the most beautiful and important goals I have ever scored. The ball was coming into the area and we had practised this a lot in training, trying to score with one touch. I was a bit lucky, though, I have to admit."
The result means that Italy, who now have two points, need a victory over Bulgaria on Tuesday, although even that might not be enough to see them through to the quarter-finals. Azzurri coach Giovanni Trapattoni was clearly disappointed but none the less heaped praise on his players.
"We gave a lot tonight," he said. "You asked us for a great performance and the boys gave their maximum and did really well. We put on a great spectacle and created a lot of good chances. Their goalkeeper did well and at the end we fell back a bit."
The Italy coach defended his decision to withdraw forwards Cassano and Alessandro Del Piero for more defensive players, saying: "I had to intervene because some players had given an awful lot and were tired."
'Do our best'
He also insisted that his players would do their best to win their final game, saying: "We have to rely slightly on the result of the other game but we are going to make sure we do our best to win and then leave the sums to everyone else."
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