Put your pasta out for Italy
I CAN’T help but feel a sense of closure following Italy’s World Cup qualifier loss to Sweden.
The team, who in 2006 knocked out the best ever Socceroos side courtesy of Fabio Grosso’s extra time theatrics before going on to lift the World Cup, will not feature at the finals in Russia for the first time since 1958.
An overrated team that has always grafted out results in ugly, unconvincing fashion, they were 26th in 2010 and 22nd in 2014 and have finally been dealt the most crushing blow of all.
But will my somewhat spiteful satisfaction prove premature? After all, this has been the qualifying campaign of giant killers, with the Azzurri joining the likes of 2010 runners-up Netherlands, 2016 Confederations Cup runners-up Chile, African giants Ivory Coast and Cameroon, and USA on the sidelines.
It’s an ominous trend facing the Asian Cup champions Australia, who should by rights dominate Honduras tonight at ANZ Stadium, judging by how well they handled their swampy conditions last week.
But the Italy exit is exactly why the World Cup must remain a 32-team format, not the 48 proposed for 2026.
As we have just seen, the possibility of big teams missing out and minnows like Iceland and Panama getting in generates interest months ahead of the tournament proper.
At risk is the prestige of simply being at the World Cup.