For the first time in 60 years, Italy won’t be in the World Cup next summer, failing to overturn their 1-0 loss against Sweden from the first leg in the UEFA playoffs to qualify to the World Cup.
A 0-0 draw after 90 minutes at the San Siro means it’s the first major tournament the Italians will miss since Euro 1992. And perhaps it serves as something of a symbol of where Italian football is right now. The national side has failed to qualify from the group stage in the last World Cup, making their triumphant campaign in 2006 seem like something that happened in a different era.
Italy had 23 attempts at goal against the resilient Swedes, but except for an impressive volley by Stephen El Shaarawy in the final minutes, Robin Olsen was rarely tested. The Swedish back four left very little space for Italy to make use of, and Italy’s lack of creative talent in their attacking midfield, as well as a disoriented attacking scheme as the clock ticked on, meant it was never too difficult to handle whatever it was Italy threw at them.
If the Italians complained about the referee after the first match, they were lucky that Antonio Mateu Lahoz turned a blind eye to two hand balls by the Italian players in the first half. He also ignored one by Sweden late in the match, but overall, Italy can’t complain about being screwed this time around.
Gianluigi Buffon, probably in his final season playing football, won’t be part of the 2018 World Cup, which would have been his 6th trip to football’s premier international tournament. Gian Piero Ventura would have probably been sacked even if Italy had won, but now, it’s a certainty the Italians will be looking for a new head coach. Perhaps Carlo Ancelotti?
Italy’s results in the qualifying campaign weren’t bad: Seven wins, two draws and one loss to Spain. It came down to their inability to beat Spain that sent them to the playoffs. There, against a Swedish side that was slightly less talented but came up with just the right amount of ability and luck in the first leg, Italy’s poor football performances under Ventura finally took their very precious toll.