Az­zurri’s fail­ure to qual­ify sets up Ital­ians for a quiet World Cup

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - Front Page - Brian fitz­patrick

Dur­ing ma­jor soc­cer cham­pi­onships, Toronto’s Lit­tle Italy tends to carry a car­ni­val at­mos­phere — but things will be far more sub­dued next sum­mer now that the Az­zurri’s 2018 World Cup hopes have been dashed by Swe­den.

For lo­cals, the heart­break of see­ing their team lose out on qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the first time since 1958 is com­pounded by the ef­fect it will have on their busi­nesses over a full month from June into July, as world soc­cer’s elite de­scend on Rus­sia.

“It’ll be like pasta with­out the cheese,” said Lenny Lom­bardi, chair of the Lit­tle Italy BIA, on Tues­day. He fig­ured most peo­ple back in Italy “prob­a­bly haven’t got­ten out of bed yet,” such was the shock of Mon­day’s re­sult.

Italy won the World Cup in 2006 — with may­hem en­su­ing in Lit­tle Italy and along St. Clair Av­enue West — and reached the de­cid­ing game of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in 2012. Not hav­ing the team on the big­gest stage will feel strange, even though their last two World Cup out­ings were un­der­whelm­ing.

“When the World Cup comes around we see an in­crease in our traf­fic 100 per cent; it just cre­ates such a great at­mos­phere,” Lom­bardi said, adding lo­cal busi­nesses will have to put on a brave face and try to draw the crowds in other ways.

“We’re not go­ing to change strat­egy,” he said. “Col­lege Street is still go­ing to be soc­cer cen­tral, but with­out the Az­zurri, a lot of peo­ple will be lost. We’re not go­ing to be able to run up and down the streets and cheer them on.”

Café Di­plo­matico on Col­lege Street is the Ital­ian team’s de­facto Toronto home, and coowner Rocco Mas­trangelo Jr. was strug­gling to wrap his head around things on Tues­day.

“I’m still in shock,” Mas­trangelo said. “As a busi­ness owner, it’s dis­ap­point­ing, but we’re known as a soc­cer HQ and na­tions unite to watch the games, so I still feel it’ll be suc­cess­ful.”

With as many as eight TVS and a 15-foot video wall on the back pa­tio, Mas­trangelo’s soc­cer tour­na­ment pro­mo­tions have, at times, even ex­tended to neigh­bour­ing prop­er­ties.

Things will be slower next sum­mer, but he’s hope­ful fans of the 32 teams who have qual­i­fied will make up for Italy’s ab­sence.

“Not hav­ing Italy there def­i­nitely hurts per­son­ally, as well as a lit­tle bit in the pocket,” he said.

it’ll be like pasta with­out the cheese.

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