Ciao World Cup: Italy in an­guish af­ter fail­ure to qual­ify ends era

Em­bat­tled coun­try shocked by loss of five-decade foot­balling record

The National - News - - NEWS - SOFIA BARBARANI Cam­pello sul Cl­i­tunno

The head­lines blared Blue Apoc­a­lypse and The End. It was the morn­ing af­ter Italy’s foot­ball team failed for the first time in more than five decades to qual­ify for the World Cup and the pub­lic mood was ev­ery bit as bleak as the news­pa­pers sug­gested.

Alessan­dro Mat­ti­olo, 30, was still in a state of shock as he re­counted the mo­ments af­ter the 0-0 draw against Swe­den doomed the Ital­ian na­tional team. He sat in silent in­credulity, star­ing at a wall.

“The dis­ap­point­ment was im­mense. [For me] this is the first time that we won’t be tak­ing part in a World Cup. My gen­er­a­tion has no rec­ol­lec­tion of a dis­ap­point­ment of this pro­por­tion,” said the young lawyer from Rome. “It’ll be dif­fi­cult to fol­low the World Cup, it’s not con­ceiv­able for us – we’re the team that have the sec­ond high­est num­ber of World Cups.”

Those who can re­mem­ber the first time Italy failed to qual­ify, in 1958, when the Az­zurri (Blues) were beaten 2-1 by min­nows North­ern Ire­land, were just as bit­ter. “I’m deeply dis­ap­pointed,” said Um­berto, 71, who owns a res­tau­rant. “Foot­ball [in Italy] mir­rors our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion – I’m aban­don­ing both pol­i­tics and foot­ball.”

Um­berto was 12 when he wit­nessed that first World Cup fail­ure. The streets of Cam­pello sul Cl­i­tunno, the small town in the heart of Italy where he lives were near de­serted yes­ter­day as he re­flected on a na­tional mood that was som­bre and in­dig­nant. In a coun­try in­creas­ingly dis­en­chanted with its po­lit­i­cal elite and eco­nomic woes, the fail­ure of the Az­zurri to qual­ify for the World Cup has only added to the wide­spread dis­il­lu­sion­ment.

“Whether they lose or win, they still get paid. [The play­ers] don’t care about the game,” Um­berto said. “Foot­ball has be­come a way to cover up [other] prob­lems.”

For Paolo Gau­denzi, an­other res­i­dent of Cam­pello, Mon­day’s re­sult was nei­ther a sur­prise nor a con­cern.

“To me [foot­ball] is not a pri­or­ity. The pri­or­i­ties are our ev­ery­day prob­lems, like the fact that schools and hos­pi­tals aren’t work­ing prop­erly,” he said.

A stone’s throw away in a half-empty cof­fee shop a 70-year-old doc­tor fin­ished his cof­fee and bel­lowed: “[The game] is the mir­ror-im­age of Italy’s deca­dence.

“Prime min­is­ter Gen­tiloni says the fi­nan­cial cri­sis is over, but that’s not true. Peo­ple are com­mit­ting sui­cide be­cause they are un­able to pay their taxes, yet we still find money for the banks and for the in­vaders,” he said, us­ing a dis­parag­ing term for refugees.

The an­guish dis­played by the team, es­pe­cially the grief on the face of the Ju­ven­tus goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon, drew sym­pa­thy from many Ital­ians. The im­age of one of Italy’s most ac­com­plished and wellloved play­ers with tears in his eyes en­com­passed a col­lec­tive sense of sad­ness felt through­out the coun­try.

“I’m not sorry for my­self, but for all of Ital­ian foot­ball. We failed at some­thing which also means some­thing on a so­cial level,” Buf­fon said af­ter the match.

The an­gry front pages and bit­ing commentary in the Ital­ian press blamed the “na­tional em­bar­rass­ment” on coach Gian Piero Ven­tura.

“I ab­so­lutely apol­o­gise for the re­sult, but not for the ef­fort we put in or our de­sire to win,” Ven­tura said.

The 69-year-old coach de­nied he planned to quit, al­though crit­ics think he should. Few were ready to con­tem­plate a come­back ei­ther for the team or the na­tion’s for­tunes. Young Ital­ians who have left in search of a bet­ter life else­where of­ten re­mark on the irony of refugees dy­ing to reach their coun­try when they have been forced to move abroad.

“There are so many Ital­ians who would love to come home, but can’t be­cause our cor­rup­tion-rid­dled coun­try has robbed us of any op­por­tu­nity,” said Gaia de Bat­tista, an Ital­ian liv­ing in London. “The mis­takes of past gen­er­a­tions have ru­ined our fu­ture, in par­tic­u­lar the en­trenched cor­rup­tion and tax eva­sion,” she said.

In a coun­try where foot­ball is more than just a game, there were some who took so­lace in the long-term view.

“We have pride, strength and we’re stub­born. We know how to get back up again as we’ve al­ways done,” Buf­fon said.

Far from the pitch, in the lit­tle town of Cam­pello, Um­berto the restau­ra­teur echoed the view. “We’ve gone through wars, we’ll get through this.”

The an­guish dis­played by the team, es­pe­cially Ju­ven­tus goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon, drew sym­pa­thy from Ital­ians

AFP

Italy sup­port­ers in Mi­lan watch the World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion match be­tween Italy and Swe­den

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