Swedish tenac­ity got the bet­ter of Ital­ian flair

Khaleej Times - - OPINION -

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.

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