World Cup blues for the Azzurri
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.