In a campaign that ended in tears after the final whistle, the Italian national team failed to qualify for the football World Cup for the first time since the 1958 edition, almost sixty years prior.
The azzurri failed to register a single goal in a two-legged tie against Sweden which ended 0-1 on aggregate, and joined the Netherlands and Chile as the high-profile absentees for the 2018 edition.
“I'm not sorry for myself but all of Italian football. We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There's regret at finishing like that, not because time passes,” said a tearful captain Gianluigi Buffon after the exit. The Juventus man, with 175 caps to his name has announced his retirement along with Antonio Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi.
The Italian squad did look light on paper, bereft of the fantastistas that have been known to spark the game into action. Much of the criticism however, has been leveled against coach Gian Piero Ventura, who took over after Antonio Conte left to take charge of Chelsea following Euro 2016. The Italian fans are reportedly crying out for Conte’s return following the fiasco, at a time when the English press has been mooting this as his last year at Cobham.
(Photo credit: AP)
Ventura losing the plot was also seen in a video that has been doing the rounds on social media. When midfielder De Rossi was asked to warm up with the Italians already trailing in the tie, he gestured in the direction of Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne to be brought on instead.
De Rossi when asked to warm up: "Why the **** should I come on? We're not meant to draw, we're meant to win!" Then points to Insigne.... pic.twitter.com/vcfWS5u38T— Juvefc.com (@juvefcdotcom) 13 November 2017
69-year-old Ventura, who had made a name for himself at Torino, started with Andrea Bellotti and Stephan El Shaarawy, confining the in-form Insigne to the bench. In a piece for ESPN, Mark Ogden, formerly of the Telegraph, compares Ventura’s travails at the highest levels to David Moyes’ doomed stint at Manchester United.
In September, Carlo Tavecchio, the President of the Italian FA was quoted saying that not qualifying for the World Cup would be an ‘apocalypse’. Last night, his coach ended up apologizing to a San Siro stadium that looked as if it was witnessing a funeral.
The last time the azzurri won the biggest prize in 2006, they were battling a cancer within as the caliciopoli scandal threatened to wreck domestic football in the country. On this occasion however, the problems have been of their own making.
Champions in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006, half a decade may pass before the world sees an Italian team on the biggest stage again.