Italy knocked out of World Cup
ITALY will be watching the 2018 World Cup from home after it drew 0-0 with Sweden in their do-or-die World Cup qualifier on Tuesday morning.
The four-time World Cup winners have missed out on qualifying for the first time since 1958 after the draw at the San Siro in Milan.
After suffering a shock 1-0 loss in the first leg in Sweden, the men in blue couldn't find the back of the net on Tuesday no matter how hard they tried.
The scoreless draw meant Sweden won 1-0 on aggregate and the Azzurri will now be watching the 2018 World Cup from afar.
Before the match the prospect of Italy missing out on football's showpiece event was described as the "apocalypse”, and that apocalypse has now arrived.
"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,” Italian goalkeeper and captain Ginaluigi Buffon said.
"There is certainly a future for Italian football, as we have pride, ability, determination and after bad tumbles, we always find a way to get back on our feet.
"I leave a squad of talent that will have their say, including Gigio Donnarumma and Mattia Perin.
"I want to give a hug to Chiello, Barza, Leo and Lele, who I had almost 10 years alongside. I thank the lads who were with us and, although it wasn't enough, I hope that we gave them something.
"In football you win as a group, you lose as a group, you divide the credit and the blame. The coach is part of this entire group.”
It's a crushing blow for a country that has won football's most prestigious tournament four times. Despite finishing with 75 per cent of the possession after 90 minutes and taking 23 shots to Sweden's four, luck deserted the home side and the scoreless draw crushed Italian hearts.
Italy enjoyed its fair share of luck as Sweden was denied what looked like two clear-cut penalties for handballs, first by Matteo Darmian and then Andrea Barzagli. Italy had a penalty appeal of its own waved off by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz when Marco Parolo was tripped from behind by Ludwig
The Azzurri struggled to carve out clear chances against a solid Sweden side, and tested goalkeeper Robin Olsen only once. Of its 23 shots, only six were on target. El Shaarawy's powerful shot at the death was the best of the opportunities but Olsen was up to the task and parried it away.
The Brazilian-born Jorginho was handed his competitive debut by Italian coach Gian Piero Ventura, and the midfielder impressed with some deft passing.
He created Italy's best chances with two throughballs for Ciro Immobile, who hit the netting from a tight angle from one. Immbobile beat Olsen with another but Andreas Granqvist got back for a decisive goal-line clearance.
Alessandro Florenzi was also back following a year out after twice tearing a knee ligament, and the midfielder forced Olsen into a neat save, while a cross of his was also deflected onto the crossbar in the second half. Meanwhile, the highly rated Lorenzo Insigne surprisingly didn't get onto the pitch at all.
Sweden has been a giant killer in qualifying as it surged towards a World Cup berth. It had already knocked out 2010 finalist The Netherlands before taking care of Italy on Tuesday.
The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.
It would be easy to lay the blame squarely on Gian Piero Ventura. The Italy coach will naturally take the lion's share of the responsibility but his side's problems run much deeper, the rot starting long before he took charge.
After winning the World Cup in 2006 for a fourth time, Italy went out at the group stage of the next two editions. It has fared somewhat better at the European Championships, reaching the final in 2012 and going out in the quarter-finals in 2008 and 2016.