Shock, grief in Italy as World Cup dream implodes
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