Ciao and good rid­dance, Italy

The Queensland Times - - SPORT - CAL­LUM DICK

SWEET, sweet karma. Oh how Soc­ceroos fans must have en­joyed that one.

Italy, the four-time FIFA World Cup cham­pi­ons and Aus­tralia’s 2006 neme­sis will not con­test the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia af­ter fall­ing 1-0 to Swe­den on ag­gre­gate on Tues­day morning.

The ‘Az­zurri’, who last tasted suc­cess in the 2006 it­er­a­tion in Ger­many, will not send a team to the world’s big­gest sport­ing spec­ta­cle for just the third time in the tour­na­ment’s his­tory.

And if you ask Aus­tralian fans their opin­ion, they will point to the famed round of 16 in­ci­dent 11 years ago as rea­son for cel­e­bra­tion at the Ital­ians’ ex­pense.

For those who are un­aware, the Soc­ceroos met the even­tual cham­pi­ons in the first round of the knock­out stages.

The favourites were forced to play with 10 men for the ma­jor­ity of the con­test, when de­fender Marco Mat­er­azzi was shown red by ref­eree Luis Me­d­ina Can­talejo.

It meant the un­der­dog Aussies were pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to knock a world foot­ball heavy­weight out of the com­pe­ti­tion, and more than once they came close to do­ing so.

Yet with the scores locked at 0-0 and the game ap­pear­ing to be headed for ex­tra time, the Ital­ians were awarded a penalty which still di­vides opin­ion more than a decade later.

Deep into stop­page time, Soc­ceroos cap­tain Lu­cas Neill looked to dis­pos­sess Ital­ian full­back Fabio Grosso of the ball inside the penalty area.

Neill missed with the tackle, but the Ital­ian con­tin­ued his run into the Aus­tralian cap­tain and ap­peared to dive for the spot kick.

Can­talejo du­ti­fully awarded the Az­zurri a penalty, and Fancesco Totti scored from the spot to send the Ital­ians through to the fi­nal eight and the Aussies pack­ing.

That de­ci­sion is one which still haunts Soc­ceroos fans and play­ers to this day; the sec­ond-best performance by an Aus­tralian foot­ball team at a World Cup ended by a highly de­bat­able, last-minute penalty.

Now it is the Ital­ians’ turn to feel hard done by, af­ter mul­ti­ple penalty shouts were waved away in a frus­trat­ing sec­ond leg 0-0 draw with Swe­den yes­ter­day.

The woes of the Ital­ians also puts into per­spec­tive the cur­rent ‘plight’ of the Soc­ceroos’ own World Cup qual­i­fy­ing po­si­tion.

Ange Postecoglou’s team have had crit­i­cism lev­elled at them for much of the cur­rent qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign.

De­spite a dom­i­nant performance against Hon­duras in the first leg of their play­off tie, the Aussies en­ter tonight’s con­test need­ing to win in or­der to qual­ify for Rus­sia.

Some of the crit­i­cism is jus­ti­fied – the Soc­ceroos have one of the worst shots-per-goal aver­ages in foot­ball at the mo­ment.

But if a team like Italy, boast­ing stars the likes of Gian­luigi Buf­fon, Daniele De Rossi and Gior­gio Chiellini is un­able to break through for next year’s tour­na­ment, per­spec­tive must be granted.

World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion is a dif­fi­cult ask for even the best teams in world foot­ball.

Should the Aussies do as is ex­pected of them tonight and de­feat Hon­duras, it is im­por­tant fans cel­e­brate the oc­ca­sion on its mer­its.

A world foot­ball pow­er­house will not be in Rus­sia next year, but the Soc­ceroos still might.

PHOTO: DANIEL DAL ZENNARO

DOWN AND OUT: Ital­ian play­ers de­jected af­ter the FIFA World Cup 2018 qual­i­fi­ca­tion play­off, sec­ond leg against Swe­den at the Giuseppe Meazza sta­dium in Mi­lan, Italy. Swe­den won 1-0 on ag­gre­gate.

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