Italy break 60 years record by failing to qualify for world Cup

Italian football suffered one of its greatest disasters as the national side missed out on the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.

Despite relentless pressure and countless chances the Azzurri failed to overturn the 1-0 deficit from the first leg, plunging the football-mad nation into anger and despair.

Now November 13, 2017 will go down in infamy as one of its darkest nights.

In the short term national coach Gian Piero Ventura will almost certainly be sacked, and legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will retire.

But the shock waves will reverberate far and wide in country whose national team has been a fixture at 14 successive finals and has won the World Cup four times. They are expected to qualify as an absolute bare minimum.

Ventura’s side, toothless in the first leg, carved out enough opportunities to break the deadlock in the San Siro but a combination of bad luck, bad finishing and inspired defending denied them.

The upshot is that today a bewildered, disbelieving nation is waking up to the prospect of watching Russia 2018 without the famous blue jerseys of Italy.

In contrast the Swedish side that somehow kept Italy at bay have become instant national heroes.

In the wake of talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s retirement Swedish football was thought to be facing decline, bu, instead, Janne Andersson’s men have carved their place in national folklore.

“I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football,” said Buffon.

“We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There’s regret at finishing like that, not because time passes.

“Those who’ve played know how hard these matches are. We weren’t able to express ourselves at our best.

“We lacked the composure to score. Play-offs are decided by episodes and they went against us but you can understand that when you’re at fault.

“We have pride, strength and we’re stubborn. We know how to get back up again as we’ve always done.

“I’m leaving an Italy side that will know how to speak for itself. Hugs to everyone, especially those I’ve shared this wonderful journey with.

Sweden celebrate their incredible achievement of bundling out the four-time champions (Image: AFP)
Andrea Belotti in tears as the result sinks in (Image: REUTERS)

“Blame is shared equally between everyone. There can’t be scapegoats. Win together, lose together.”

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As kick-off approached the white-hot atmosphere in the San Siro reflected the high stakes, although the crowd took their passion too far by whistling the Swedish national anthem.

Ventura’s side started positively with Southampton’s Manolo Gabbiadini partnering Ciro Immobile in attack.

However despite early pressure they were finding it tough to create clear-cut chances.

The Italians did manage to carve the Swedish defence open in the 27th minute when an exquisite lobbed pass from Jorginho found Immobile in space on the left.

He cut it back across goal and it fell for Antonio Candreva, whose effort skimmed the top of the crossbar.

(Image: REUTERS)

Five minutes from half-time Immobile got on the end of another gorgeous Jorginho pass and beat Swedish keeper Robin Olsen, only for Granqvist to get back to clear.

It looked as if the Swedes’ brave resistance was about to crack under the strain, and Allessandro Florenzi had another glorious chance just before half-time but Olsen saved brilliantly to preserve the 0-0 scoreline.

The second half opened with another claim for a penalty – this time when right-back Mikael Lustig’s knee connected with Darmian’s ribcage – but again referee Lahoz was unmoved.

Stephan El Shaarawy is consoled by Sweden’s Emil Forsberg (Image: REUTERS)

In the 53rd minute Florenzi again came close, this time with an acrobatic volley from the edge of the 18-yard box.

The Swedes seemed to have taken the sting out of the Italian threat and even had a handful of half chances to themselves.

However in the 87th minute El Shaarawy crashed in a volley that was well saved, yet again, by Olsen.

Sebastian Larsson pays tribute to Sweden’s travelling fans (Image: AFP)

As the match ticked over into added time the Italians became desperate, and Buffon hauled his ageing body upfield for their last two corners.

But is was all in vain, and when the referee blew for time the Azzurri players collapsed on the turf as a crescendo of boos rang round the the San Siro. The unthinkable had happened.

“We had no weapons left,” said Sweden coach Jan Andersson.

“We just had to sit there and hope that we could hang on.

“We couldn’t do it in any other way, they are so skilful.”

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