World Cup blues for the Az­zurri

Cape Argus - - SPORT -

ITAL­IANS, who con­sider a spot in the World Cup fi­nals a vir­tual birthright, slumped into col­lec­tive de­spair yes­ter­day af­ter the na­tional team failed to win a place among soc­cer’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 lit­tle-fan­cied Swe­den on Mon­day in Mi­lan.

“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 have played in the last 14 World Cup fi­nals, win­ning two of them. In all, they have tri­umphed four times, a tally only ex­ceeded by Brazil, who have won five times. Italy are the only for­mer cham­pi­ons 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, who had watched in the San Siro sta­dium as Italy drew 0-0 with Swe­den to lose the two-leg clash 1-0 on ag­gre­gate.

Ev­ery four years, Italy has come to­gether over the World Cup, putting aside its his­toric city-state 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 (pic­tured), in a tear­ful in­ter­view just af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle on Mon­day, recog­nis­ing the broader sig­nif­i­cance of the na­tional team.

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

“This match mir­rors our coun­try which is fall­ing apart,” said a dis­ap­pointed Ste­fano Martufello as he left the San Siro.

Gian­luigi Buf­fon

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