Az­zuri fails to reach World Cup for first time in 60 years

The Free Press Journal - - FRONT PAGE -

Italy failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 as they were held to a 0-0 draw in the sec­ond-leg of their play-off at the San Siro by Swe­den, who qual­i­fied with a 1-0 ag­gre­gate vic­tory.

The four-time cham­pi­ons dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion but strug­gled to cre­ate enough clear-cut chances, as Swe­den se­cured a first ap­pear­ance at the fi­nals since 2006 cour­tesy of Jakob Jo­hans­son's first-leg strike in Stock­holm.

De­spite the sup­port of 74,000 fans in a white-hot at­mos­phere at the San Siro the 2006 World Cup win­ners could not find a way through.

It is the third time that the Ital­ians will not com­pete at the World Cup, af­ter not go­ing to the first edi­tion in 1930 and not qual­i­fy­ing for the 1958 fi­nals in Swe­den.

It marks the end of an era for iconic goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon who will not be able to com­pete in a record sixth World Cup.

At 39, the 175-times capped Buf­fon had an­nounced that the fi­nals in Rus­sia would be his last as a player for the na­tional side.

"I'm sorry, sorry, sorry," a tear­ful Buf­fon told Rai tele­vi­sion as he con­firmed he was end­ing his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer.

"I'm not sorry for my­self but all of Ital­ian foot­ball, be­cause we failed at some­thing which also means some­thing on a so­cial level.

"It's the only re­gret I have. Not stop­ping, be­cause time passes and it's nor­mal. I re­gret just that my fi­nal match with the na­tional side co­in­cides with an elim­i­na­tion.

"I leave a squad of tal­ent that will have their say, in­clud­ing (Gian­luigi) Don­narumma and (Mat­tia) Perin. I em­brace all those who have sup­ported me."

With­out star Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, who re­tired from the na­tional team af­ter Euro 2016, Swe­den sealed a re­turn to the world stage af­ter fail­ing to reach the last two edi­tions. The last time the Scan­di­na­vians par­tic­i­pated was in 2006.

"I'm emo­tional and very happy," said Swe­den coach Janne An­der­s­son. "This match showed our col­lec­tive strength.

"With Ibrahi­movic we played dif­fer­ently. He's re­tired and he's a great cham­pion. So, we adapted and we play in an­other way now."

It was a medi­ocre per­for­mance by the hosts with Antonio Can­dreva fir­ing over and Swe­den goal­keeper Robin Olsen deny­ing Alessan­dro Florenzi and Ciro Im­mo­bile. Mikael Lustig al­most scored an own goal when his de­flec­tion hit the bar.

Marco Ver­ratti sat out a ban with Si­mone Zaza and Leonardo Spinaz­zola both in­jured, with Daniele De Rossi and An­drea Belotti not fully fit.

Coach Gian Piero Ven­tura gave Brazil-born Jorginho his first com­pet­i­tive ap­pear­ance for Italy with Florenzi and Manolo Gab­bia­dini also handed starts. Napoli's in-form winger Lorenzo In­signe how­ever was once again left on the bench.

Swe­den's Lustig was back from sus­pen­sion, with Jo­hans­son start­ing in place of the in­jured Al­bin Ek­dal.

The hosts had penalty ap­peals in the open­ing few min­utes as Marco Parolo ap­peared to be tripped from be­hind by Lud­wig Au­gustins­son, but the ref­eree waved play on and booked Gior­gio Chiellini for dis­sent.

Swe­den lost first-leg goal scorer Jo­hans­son af­ter 15 min­utes when his left knee buck­led badly and he was stretchered off to make way for Gus­tav Svens­son.

Jorginho's through ball found Im­mo­bile to pull back from the by­line for Can­dreva to blast over, but Leonardo Bonucci, wear­ing a pro­tec­tive mask af­ter break­ing his nose on Fri­day, got a knock to the knee and was limp­ing badly.

Swe­den play­ers cel­e­brate at the end of the FIFA World Cup 2018 qual­i­fi­ca­tion foot­ball match against Italy at the San Siro sta­dium in Mi­lan.

Ital­ian goal­keeper Buf­fon gri­maces af­ter the match.

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