Blues for Azzurri
Italy fail to reach World Cup for first time in 60 years
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 playoff 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 2006World 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 inform 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 goalscorer Johansson after 15 minutes when his left knee buckled badly and he was stretched off to make way for Gustav Svensson.
Jorginho’s through ball found Immobile to pull back from the by-line 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.
Ventura doesn’t resign after Italy fails
THE prevailing theme for Gian Piero Ventura’s run as Italy coach was that the 69-year-old journeyman manager was in far over his head.
Having never coached a major club before taking over the national team last year, Ventura covered himself in disgrace when four-time champion Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.
Ventura was widely criticised for poor tactical decisions before and after Sweden’s 1-0 aggregate win over the Azzurri.
After the scoreless draw in the second leg, it was a foregone conclusion he will be fired according to a contract stipulation in case of a failed qualification, unless he resigns.
“I’m not resigning because I haven’t spoken with the (federation) president,” Ventura said. “We need to evaluate things. We’ll see. I’ll talk with the federation and confront the problem.
“I feel I have to apologise to Italians for the result.”
Ventura’s expected ouster will come in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Antonio Conte.
Italy’s forward Ciro Immobile reacts at the end of the FIFA World Cup qualification match against Sweden at the San Siro stadium in Milan. (AFP/Miguel Medina)