Italy fail to reach World Cup

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

MI­LAN: Four-time cham­pion Italy failed to qual­ify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades af­ter los­ing their play­off to Swe­den 1-0 on ag­gre­gate.

They played to a goal­less draw in the sec­ond leg at San Siro Mon­day.

Swe­den ad­vanced to their first World Cup since 2006.

It could have been worse for Italy, as Swe­den were de­nied what looked like two clear-cut penal­ties for hand­balls, first by Mat­teo Darmian and then An­drea Barza­gli.

Italy had a penalty ap­peal of their own waved off by ref­eree An­to­nio Ma­teu La­hoz when Marco Parolo was tripped from be­hind by Lud­wig Aug­sustins­son.

But the Az­zurri strug­gled to carve out clear chances against a solid Swe­den side, and really tested goal­keeper Robin Olsen only once.

This will be only the sec­ond World Cup missed by Italy. The first was in 1958.

The last ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions Italy failed to qual­ify for were the 1984 and 1992 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships.

It would be easy to lay the blame squarely on Gian Piero Ven­tura. The Italy coach will nat­u­rally take the lion’s share but the Az­zurri’s prob­lems run much deeper.

The rot started long be­fore Ven­tura took charge.

Af­ter win­ning the World Cup in 2006 for a fourth time, Italy went out at the group stage of the next two edi­tions. They fared some­what bet­ter at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, reach­ing the fi­nal in 2012 and go­ing out in the quar­ter­fi­nals in 2008 and 2016.

ButAn­to­nioConte’sI­talysideover­achieved in France last year, when they sur­pris­ingly beat Spain in the round of 16 be­fore los­ing on penal­ties to world cham­pi­ons Ger­many.

For a long time, Italy have lacked a cre­ative force. The likes of An­drea Pirlo and Francesco Totti of the 2006 side could change a match with one mo­ment of magic. Both are long re­tired. Mario Balotelli was the star of Euro 2012 but fell out of fa­vor af­ter Italy’s woe­ful show­ing at the last World Cup, and hasn’t been called up by Ven­tura, while Conte se­lected him in only one squad.

The lack of stars in the Italy team is re­flected in the Ital­ian league.

Ju­ven­tus have been a force to be reck­oned with in re­cent years in Eu­rope, where they have reached two out of the past three Cham­pi­ons League fi­nals. But while their de­fense forms the back­bone of the Italy team, their mid­field and at­tack are made up mainly of for­eign play­ers.

The Brazil­ian-born Jorginho was fi­nally handed his com­pet­i­tive de­but by Ven­tura, and the mid­fielder im­pressed with some deft pass­ing.

Jorginho cre­ated Italy’s best op­por­tu­ni­ties with two through­balls for Ciro Im­mo­bile, who hit the net­ting from a tight an­gle from one. Imm­bo­bile beat Olsen with an­other but An­dreas Gran­qvist got back for a de­ci­sive goal-line clear­ance.

Alessan­dro Florenzi was also back fol­low­ing a year out af­ter twice tear­ing a knee lig­a­ment, and the mid­fielder forced Olsen into his only real save, while a cross of his was also de­flected onto the cross­bar in the sec­ond half.

Mean­while, the highly rated Lorenzo In­signe sur­pris­ingly played only 15 min­utes of the play­off – and out of po­si­tion.

Those three play­ers are 26 or un­der and, along with for­wards Ciro Im­mo­bile and An­drea Belotti, could form the spine of a re­ju­ve­nated Italy side for sev­eral years to come. –

Italy will miss the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

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