Shock, grief in Italy as World Cup dream im­plodes

Otago Daily Times - - SPORT & RACING -

ROME: Ital­ians, who con­sider a spot in the World Cup fi­nals a vir­tual birthright, slumped into col­lec­tive de­pres­sion yes­ter­day af­ter the na­tional team failed to win a place among foot­ball’s elite for the first time in 60 years.

‘‘Dis­as­ter’’, ‘‘night­mare’’, ‘‘hu­mil­i­a­tion’’, were just a few of the words splashed across the front pages of Italy’s news­pa­pers to de­scribe the shock of the team’s elim­i­na­tion at the hands of a lit­tle­fan­cied Swe­den on Tues­day.

‘‘Apoc­a­lypse Az­zurra,’’ said the head­line of La Stampa news­pa­per, re­fer­ring to the un­of­fi­cial name of the team whose bright blue jer­seys re­flect the azure of the Mediter­ranean Sea.

Italy has played in the past 14 World Cup fi­nals, win­ning two of them. In all, it has tri­umphed four times, a tally only ex­ceeded by Brazil, which has won five times. Italy is the only for­mer cham­pion not to make it to next year’s fi­nals.

‘‘This is dis­gust­ing. The World Cup can’t ex­ist with­out Italy. It just can’t ex­ist,’’ said Francesco Ma­cella, a fan who was in Mi­lan’s San Siro sta­dium to watch as Italy failed to over­come Swe­den in a tense 0­0 draw in the sec­ond leg of their Euro­pean play­off, hav­ing lost the first leg 1­0 in Stock­holm.

Ev­ery four years, Italy has come to­gether over the World Cup, putting aside its his­toric city­state ri­val­ries to be­come a united na­tion for a brief mo­ment in time, cheer­ing on all the play­ers re­gard­less if they came from Mi­lan, Rome or Naples.

‘‘We have failed and at a so­cial level this could have been so im­por­tant,’’ said Italy’s sto­ried goal­keeper, Gigi Buf­fon, in a tear­ful in­ter­view min­utes af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle on Tues­day, recog­nis­ing the broader sig­nif­i­cance of the na­tional team.

While news­pa­pers laid the blame squarely on team coach Gian Piero Ven­tura and foot­ball fed­er­a­tion chief Carlo Tavec­chio, some fans thought the fail­ure re­flected sider so­cial and eco­nomic prob­lems.

Italy last won the World Cup in 2006, but ex­ited at the group stage in 2010 and 2014 af­ter lack­lus­tre dis­plays. This lat­est set­back showed how far the team has drifted from its peak, be­ly­ing the wide­spread ex­pec­ta­tion that it would have eased past Swe­den.

Grasp­ing for sil­ver lin­ings, news­pa­per com­men­ta­tors recog­nised that the Ital­ian team was weak and would not have got very far in Rus­sia.

‘‘The only con­so­la­tion is that we would have made ut­ter fools of our­selves at the fi­nals,’’ La Stampa said. — Reuters

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