Italy took a decisive step towards the semi-finals with a 2-1 win against Sweden in Group A despite playing nearly an hour with ten men following Mario Balotelli's dismissal.
The FC Internazionale Milano striker had opened the scoring midway through the half with a terrific curling shot, but seven minutes before the break he kicked out at Pontus Wernbloom and was shown a straight red card. Sweden pressed after the break but were unable to make their numerical advantage tell, falling further behind on 53 minutes when Robert Acquafresca headed in. It meant Ola Toivonen's late strike was mere consolation.
The home fans were out in strength on Midsummer national holiday and their team looked to pick up from where they left off in their 5-1 win against Belarus. They were almost given a dream start when Salvatore Bocchetti's mis-hit back pass let Marcus Berg – the hat-trick hero against Belarus – through on goal. Italy goalkeeper Andrea Consigli was quickly off his line to hassle the striker into a wayward pass of his own. Sweden, though, had seized the initiative and moments later Mikael Lustig narrowly headed over. Consigli had to be alert again on 12 minutes to hold Rasmus Elm's low, deflected free-kick at his right post.
Italy coach Pierluigi Casiraghi had kept faith with his front three of Acquafresca, Sebastian Giovinco and Balotelli, and the trio combined well on 18 minutes. Balotelli's first-time ball picked out Giovinco, whose pass was fractionally too long for Acquafresca. The warning signs were there and five minutes later Italy were ahead. The increasingly influential Giovinco found Balotelli on the left with a chipped pass and the striker cut inside before sending a wonderful curling shot beyond Johan Dahlin.
Giovinco was running the game and showed his confidence with an audacious chipped shot from near the centre circle that had Dahlin back-pedalling before gratefully seeing the ball land on the roof of the net. Italy's ascendancy, however, was short-lived. An increasingly ill-tempered game had already featured three Swedish bookings when Balotelli kicked out at the prone Wernbloom and was dismissed. Sweden had fallen behind in their three previous matches yet recovered to win and they scented a chance again here, Emir Bajrami firing over before the break. Two minutes after the restart Berg also came close when he lashed a shot across the face of goal. It was Italy, though, who struck next. Giovinco won a free-kick near the corner flag and took it himself, whipping a ball into the near post where Acquafresca, the Azzurrini's top scorer in qualifying, gleefully headed into the far corner.
Sweden rallied and twice Toivonen dragged wide when well placed while Consigli got down sharply to keep out Wernbloom's low strike. Sweden introduced Labinot Harbuzi and Martin Olsson midway through the half and the latter twice came close before the hosts' pressure finally told a minute from time as Toivonen lashed in. It came too late to save the game, however, and Italy will face Belarus on Tuesday confident of claiming a place in the last four while Sweden have it all to do against Serbia.