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Sweden won’t back down against ‘physical’ Italy at Women’s World Cup

Captain Kosovare Asllani warned her Sweden team won’t back down in the face of Italy’s physical approach when the two unbeaten sides clash at the Women’s World Cup on Saturday.

A victory for either will be enough to qualify for the knockout phase but Italy-based Asllani said her team will need to come through a rigorous examination.

Third-ranked Sweden dug deep and found a 90th-minute winner in their 2-1 defeat of South Africa in their opener, while 16th-ranked Italy also left it late to see off Argentina 1-0.

A 2-2 draw between Argentina and South Africa on Friday leaves the two European teams as favourites to advance from Group G.

Experienced AC Milan midfielder Asllani — the only outfield Swedish player in Italy’s top flight — has warned her team-mates to expect some old-fashioned Italian treatment in Wellington.

“I’m quite used to that type of football. It’s very focused on man-marking and we know that there will be tough situations,” she said.

“The duels are very important. We expect them to come in very close… but other spaces will open for us as a result.

“We never turn down the offer of a physical game so we’re very much looking forward to it.”

Asllani was unsurprised Italy’s goal was rarely threatened by Argentina, pointing out Le Azzurre kept nine clean sheets during their 10 World Cup qualifying matches.

Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson said their second game will be a marked contrast to the first, when South Africa operated without the ball and relied on fast counterattacks.

“Italy is perhaps not a team with the same speed as South Africa but many players are good with their heads and, methodically, they’ll work to create opportunities.”

Barcelona forward Fridolina Rolfo, who scored the equaliser against South Africa, was replaced late in the game with a knee complaint.

She said she had trained without incident, although the injury hadn’t completely cleared.

Sweden have contested all eight previous Women’s World Cups but their best performance was runners-up in 2003. They have finished third three times.

Italy reached the quarter-finals in two of their three appearances.

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