Swe­den ousts Italy in WC qual­i­fier

Manila Bulletin - - Sports News - Swede play­ers whoop it up af­ter hold­ing four-time World Cup cham­pion Italy to a 0-0 draw in Mi­lan. (AP)

MI­LAN (AP) – Play­ers from both teams slumped to the ground. The Swedes in ex­hausted ec­stasy, the Ital­ians in losers' agony.

On a starry night in Mi­lan, four­time cham­pion Italy failed to qual­ify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Swe­den ad­vanced for the first time since 2006.

De­spite three quar­ters of pos­ses­sion, Italy was stymied by a goal­less draw in the sec­ond leg of their play­off on Mon­day and Swe­den pre­vailed 1-0 on ag­gre­gate.

“It's a black mo­ment for our game,'' Italy mid­fielder Daniele De Rossi said. “Un­for­tu­nately there will be a lot of time to an­a­lyze it. The only thing I can say is that we showed few ideas and not much in the way of tac­tics.''

The Swe­den play­ers ran over to cel­e­brate with the trav­el­ing fans, a sea of joy­ful yel­low at San Siro. The Ital­ians looked on in shock and disbe- lief or put their head in their hands as though it were too painful to watch.

Many of them were in tears, es­pe­cially cap­tain and goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon, who played his last in­ter­na­tional af­ter 20 years be­tween the posts for the Az­zurri.

“We all need to look within and find a way to bounce back,'' de­fender Gior­gio Chiellini said. “We need to get back to the level we de­serve to be at.''

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

Italy had a penalty ap­peal of its 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 of their six shots on tar­get, only one re­ally tested goal­keeper Robin Olsen.

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.

“I want to apol­o­gize to the Ital­ian peo­ple for the re­sult,'' Ven­tura said. “Not for the com­mit­ment, and the de­sire and ev­ery­thing else but for the re­sult.''

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. It fared some­what bet­ter at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, reach­ing the fi­nal in 2012 and go­ing out in the quar­ter­fi­nals in 2008 and 2016.

Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks tries to get past LeBron James of the Cleve­land Cava­liers in their NBA game yes­ter­day at Madi­son Square Gar­den. The Cavs won, 104-101. (AP)

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