4-time champ Italy to miss World Cup

Sun.Star Cebu - - PRIME SPORTS - / 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, four-time 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 dis­be­lief 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 what he said was 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.” Italy had failed to qual­ify for the World Cup just once be- fore, reach­ing 14 straight since fall­ing short in 1958. The Az­zurri did not en­ter the first World Cup in 1930.

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 Span­ish ref- eree An­to­nio Ma­teu La­hoz when Marco Parolo was tripped from be­hind by Lud­wig Aug­sustins­son.

But the Az­zurri strug­gled to carve out clear chances, and only one of their six shots on tar­get 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 quar­ter­fi­nal elim­i­na­tion in 2008 and 2016.

How­ever, An­to­nio Conte’s Italy side over­achieved in France last year, when it sur­pris­ingly beat Spain in the round of 16 be­fore los­ing on penal­ties to world cham­pion Ger­many.

For a long time, Italy has lacked a cre­ative force, suc­ces­sors to An­drea Pirlo and Francesco Totti of the 2006 side who could change a match with one mo­ment of magic.

Mario Balotelli was the star of Euro 2012 but fell out of fa­vor af­ter Italy’s woe­ful show­ing at the last World Cup.

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

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

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