Swedish tenacity got the better of Italian flair
Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals is more surprising than shocking after a series of lacklustre performances and unfortunate events. The Azzurri looked worn out and sorely missed some youthful spunk. Their helmsmen merely papered over the cracks in the system when they should have infused new blood with stronger legs. This team led by 39-year-old Gianluigi Buffon and coach Gian Piero Ventura have struggled for long and were a creaky outfit at best, never really proving that they were masters of their craft. Age was not on their side (how can you expect a starting line up with seven 30-somethings to pull off a miracle?). Why was 18-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma warming the bench when he should have been thrown in the middle? The lad has four caps already. Italy clearly fell short of inspiration to create openings on the field, a strike force powered by youth to shake up rival defences. Pundits have been quick to blame the team’s poor showing on the coaching system at home which is in dire need of a rejig.
In the here and now, the four-time champions should be kicking themselves for the shoddy way they set themselves up for failure. They will be missed by football buffs from all over the world in Russia next year. On Monday, they tried long and hard; they held 76 per cent possession but missed chances to score, and ran out of luck. What value is possession of the ball without precision to complete the task? They managed to control the state of play, only to falter when opportunities arose. Twenty shots at goal in the second half were testament to their efforts. Sadly, it wasn’t good enough against the confident Swedes who had smelt blood and simply wore down the desperate Azzurri. A goal-less draw was all it took to gently shut the door on the former champions — a tragedy sans the humiliation. It was a game that saw Swedish tenacity squaring off against Italian flair. A win for the stoic Swedes is a fair result even if you are openly rooting for the sentimental favourite.