Ital­ian de­spair at World Cup ‘apoc­a­lypse’

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Stunned Ital­ians awoke Tues­day to the night­mar­ish re­al­isa on they will miss out on the World Cup fi­nals for the first me in 60 years.

MI­LAN: Stunned Ital­ians awoke Tues­day to the night­mar­ish re­al­i­sa­tion they will miss out on the World Cup fi­nals for the first time in 60 years.

Dis­traught fans of the one-time top dogs of the global game re­acted with shock and dis­be­lief.

The Ital­ian press called it an “apoc­a­lypse” for the team, who last failed to qual­ify for the 1958 World Cup and have played ev­ery other edi­tion apart from the in­au­gu­ral tour­na­ment in 1930.

Tear­ful cap­tain Gian­luigi Buf­fon quit in­ter­na­tional foot­ball and coach Gian Piero Ven­tura said he would con­sider his fu­ture af­ter the Az­zurri drew 0-0 with Swe­den on Mon­day to lose 1-0 on ag­gre­gate.

There was dis­be­lief among the 75,000 fans in Mi­lan’s San Siro Sta­dium with 14.8 mil­lion stunned Ital­ians watch­ing their na­tional fall from grace on tele­vi­sion.

The Ital­ian foot­ball fed­er­a­tion called cri­sis talks for Wed­nes­day with 69-year-old Ven­tura ex­pected to be sacked.

“We are deeply af­fected and dis­ap­pointed,” said fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Carlo Tavec­chio. “It’s a sport­ing fail­ure that re­quires shared so­lu­tions by every­one.”

For many the de­feat re­flected a pro­found malaise in Ital­ian foot­ball with the 2006 World Cup tri­umph hav­ing been fol­lowed by group stage ex­its from the last two World Cups.

“It’s the big­gest Ital­ian sports catas­tro­phe of the last 60 years, which can­not be blamed on the coach,” for­mer Rome mayor Wal­ter Vel­troni told Rai Ra­dio 1, sug­gest­ing a to­tal clearout of the hi­er­ar­chy.

“The re­sults are miss­ing at the na­tional level, clubs, from grass­roots level ba­si­cally. There is a prob­lem in Ital­ian foot­ball, that con­cerns the man­age­ment, down the ranks.

“A new pres­i­dent, a new coach, are needed. Af­ter (Alessan­dro) Del Piero and (Francesco) Totti there is a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem in Ital­ian foot­ball lack­ing au­thor­ity.”

For Buf­fon it was a na­tional catas­tro­phe more than a per­sonal dis­ap­point­ment.

“I’m not sorry for my­self but all of Ital­ian foot­ball, be­cause we failed at some­thing which also means some­thing on a so­cial level,” he said.

The 39-year-old goal­keeper, who has 175 in­ter­na­tional caps and was an in­te­gral part of the 2006 World Cup vic­tory in Ger­many, had been hop­ing to com­pete in a record sixth World Cup.

But Ven­tura made no an­nounce­ment about his po­si­tion de­spite fail­ing to lead the 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 win­ners to their 19th World Cup.

The for­mer Torino coach said he would first talk to the fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion on his fu­ture.

“Re­sign? I don’t know. I have to eval­u­ate an in­fin­ity of things. I have not yet spo­ken to the pres­i­dent,” said Ven­tura. “It doesn’t de­pend on me, I’m not in the state of mind to face this ques­tion.”

“It’s a very heavy re­sult to bear, be­cause I was ab­so­lutely con­vinced that we had this fe­ro­cious de­sire to over­come the ob­sta­cle.”

Fans were strug­gling to come to terms with the prospect of a World Cup with­out their team.

“It is re­ally very sad be­cause watch­ing the World Cup was some­thing that re­ally brought us to­gether as Ital­ians,” said grad­u­ate Ste­fa­nia Pusateri, head­ing for the exit af­ter watch­ing the match in a Rome bar.

“But what is sure is that the shock will be even worse for my fa­ther. He is 54 years old and he has never had to go through some­thing like this.”

Drink­ing cof­fee the morn­ing af­ter, young Ro­man Carlo said Ven­tura did not de­serve to take all the blame.

“The truth is we haven’t re­placed the play­ers we had in the past. World-class play­ers like Roberto Bag­gio, Del Piero, Totti: they just aren’t there any more.”

The game in Mi­lan wit­nessed a gen­er­a­tional shift for Italy, with Buf­fon and fel­low 2006 veter­ans An­drea Barza­gli and Daniele De Rossi all quit­ting the team, while Gior­gio Chiellini also hung up his Az­zurri jer­sey.

“The era of four or five veter­ans comes to a close, the one of the hun­gry young play­ers com­ing through be­gins and that’s how it should be,” said Ven­tura, who took over from Chelsea coach An­to­nio Conte in 2016 with a con­tract un­til June 2020.

Ven­tura had made changes from Fri­day’s de­feat with Brazil-born Jorginho mak­ing his Italy de­but and Alessan­dro Florenzi and Manolo Gab­bia­dini also handed starts, al­though Napoli’s in-form winger Lorenzo In­signe was again left on the bench.

As the clock ticked down, De Rossi was asked by Ven­tura to warm up but he pointed at In­signe in­stead.

“I just said we were near the end and had to win, so send the strik­ers to warm up,” said De Rossi. “I pointed to In­signe too. I just thought per­haps it was bet­ter that In­signe come on in­stead.”

Buf­fon even came up for two cor­ners in a fi­nal gam­ble but Italy fell des­per­ately short.

“Italy, this is the apoc­a­lypse,” ran a head­line on the web­site of sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Wasted chances, a bit of bad luck but zero goals in 180 min­utes against the Swedes, who will go to Rus­sia,” Gazzetta com­mented.

Cor­riere dello Sport said it will be painful to be on the side­lines when the ac­tion starts in Rus­sia in June.

“It is an in­tol­er­a­ble foot­ball shame, an in­deli­ble stain,” the news­pa­per said.

“It is over. Apoc­a­lypse, tragedy, catas­tro­phe.” – AFP

Italy’s for­ward Ciro Im­mo­bile re­acts at the end of the FIFA World Cup 2018 qual­i­fi­ca­tion foot­ball match be­tween Italy and Swe­den, on Novem­ber 13, 2017 at the San Siro sta­dium in Mi­lan. Italy failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 on Mon­day 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. - AFP photo

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