Four- time world champions, Italy have failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after a goalless draw against Sweden in the return leg of the play-off at San Siro, Milan. The Swedes progressed on a 1-0 aggregate.
Sweden had won the first leg played at the Friends Arena, Stockholm on Friday. Both teams needed a playoff to qualify for Russia after they finished second in their respective groups in the European world cup qualifiers.
It is the first time,, Italy will not be represented in a world cup since 1958. Interestingly, the last time they failed to qualify was for Sweden ’58, and again it is Sweden that stopped them from pursuing their quest for a fifth world cup triumph.
Unlike in the first leg, the Gli Azzuris dominated possession before a vociferou 74,000 home fans but were unable to create enough clear-cut chances, as Sweden secured a first appearance at the finals since 2006. Thanks to of Jakob Johansson’s first-leg strike in Stockholm.
It will be Sweden’s twelfth world cup appearance after making their debut in 1934.
It is the third time that the Italians will miss the World Cup, after not going to the first edition in 1930 and not qualifying for the 1958 finals in Sweden.
In a football crazy country like Italy, the failure of the Azzuris to qualify is a national disaster that might cause depression for a lot of football fanatics.
It is also a disastrous end to the international career of legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon,who had hoped to play in a record sixth World Cup.
At 39, the 175-times capped Buffon had announced that the finals in Russia would be his last competition for Italy.
“I’m sorry, sorry, sorry,” a tearful Buffon told Rai television as he announced an end to his international career.
“I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football, because we failed at something which also means something on a social level.
“It’s the only regret I have. Not stopping, because time passes and it’s normal. I regret just that my final match with the national side coincides with an elimination.
“I leave a squad of talent that will have their say, including (Gianluigi) Donnarumma and (Mattia) Perin. I embrace all those who have supported me.”
However, Sweden’s qualification could provide a stage for super-star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic to dazzle the world once more before he eventually hangs his boots.
After missing out in two editions, Sweden, without Ibrahimovic, who retired from the national team after Euro 2016, returned to the world cup. The last time the Scandinavians took part was in 2006.
In a football crazy country like Italy, the failure of the Azzuris to qualify is a national disaster that might plunge a lot of football fanatics into depression.