Italy face WC night­mare against Swe­den

Last failed to qual­ify for sport’s pre­miere event in 1958

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS -

For soc­cer gi­ants Italy the next few days could be a night­mare as they face a dou­ble-headed play­off against Swe­den to avoid the hu­mil­i­a­tion of miss­ing the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.

“A World Cup with­out Italy isn’t a World Cup” has be­come the catch­phrase of many Ital­ians – four-time world cham­pi­ons – who are per­plexed at how the once-mighty Az­zurri have fallen so low.

The last time Italy missed the World Cup was the 1958 edi­tion which was hosted in Swe­den.

“I don’t even con­sider the idea of not qual­i­fy­ing. We’ll go to Rus­sia for sure,” in­sisted coach Gian Piero Ven­tura, who took over from An­to­nio Conte af­ter the 2016 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship.

“We’re Italy and miss­ing out on the World Cup is not an op­tion,” added ex­pe­ri­enced cen­tre-back Leonardo Bonucci.

The play­off puts Italy’s proud record of World Cup par­tic­i­pa­tion in dan­ger. The Az­zurri are tied with Ger­many for most ap­pear­ances by a Euro­pean na­tion, 18. But Ger­many have al­ready made sure of a 19th berth.

Italy are also the only one of the eight pre­vi­ous win­ners not yet sure of their place in this World Cup.

“Italy is Italy and has a par­tic­u­lar stand­ing in world soc­cer. And it’s in­evitable that they are favorite,” said for­mer Italy in­ter­na­tional and ex-Manch­ester City coach Roberto Mancini.

“It’s sure at 100 per­cent that we’ll be at the World Cup. And his­tor­i­cally when we strug­gle to qual­ify then we usu­ally make a big tour­na­ment.”

Italy last won the World Cup in 2006 un­der Mar­cello Lippi with the hope that with their ex­pe­ri­ence, tal­ent and skill they could con­tinue to pre­vail in years to come.

But de­spite a run to the Euro 2012 fi­nal they have failed to de­liver con­sis­tency on the big stage, al­though for­mer Ju­ven­tus boss Conte led them to the quar­ter­fi­nals of Euro 2016 with wins over Spain and Bel­gium.

Af­ter Conte’s de­par­ture for Chelsea the fed­er­a­tion turned to vet­eran jour­ney­man Ven­tura, who had coached clubs in Italy at all lev­els over 41 years.

The 69-year-old has of­ten how­ever ap­peared over­whelmed by the task, pre­fer­ring to stick to his 4-2-4 tac­ti­cal sys­tem to the detri­ment of the cre­ativ­ity of stars such as Marco Ver­ratti, Lorenzo In­signe, Ciro Im­mo­bile and An­drea Belotti.

Con­fi­dence took a knock dur­ing a tough qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign dur­ing which they lost 3-0 to Spain, and also strug­gled past Is­rael (1-0) and Al­ba­nia (1-0) while laboring to a dis­mal 1-1 draw at home to Mace­do­nia.

The four-time win­ners have missed just two World Cup fi­nals – the first in 1930 when they chose not to com­pete and in 1958 when they did not qual­ify.

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