Italian fans reacted in shock and disbelief last night as Italy missed out on their first World Cup since 1958.
A 0-0 draw in the second leg meant that that Italy failed to overcome last week’s 1-0 defeat in Stockholm and there has been plenty soul searching amongst players and fans alike as the nation comes to terms with the fact that they will be not be in Russia next summer.
Conor Clancy is the editor-in-chief of the online Italian football blog ‘Forza Italian Football’ and he explained the feeling amongst Italian fans around the events in Milan last night; “Shock, more than anything else really. As much as the risk was always there and as bad as it got at points, I never really thought they wouldn’t make it. You have to be 70-ish to remember a WC without the Azzurri, so this will come as a shock for many people. “
“Italy, this it the apocalypse” was the headline in the country’s leading sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport and much of the anger was focused on the national team manager Gian Pero Ventura who many believe should shoulder the majority of the blame for Italy’s failure.
“This almost sets Italian football back in the eyes of outsiders” said Conor. “This team should not be missing a World Cup, and it’s such a shame they failed with this, genuinely talented, group. Had they done it in 2010 it would have been fair. But now, Italian football is on the way back, but gross mismanagement by Ventura means they’re not there. He (Ventura) will be gone before Thursday I would imagine. He only just got a new deal so it probably won’t be a sacking, but he won’t be there much longer.”
It was the end of an era for a group of Italian internationals that had won a combined 461 caps between them. Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon all announced their retirement from international football last night. “It is upsetting that my last match decided we didn’t qualify for the World Cup” said Buffon. “I’m sorry. Not for me but for Italy. We blew something that could have meant so much. The only regret is that it ended like this.”
Attention will now turn to the future of the national team and whilst there is a huge sense of disappointment over Italy’s failure to qualify, there is still some cause for optimism insists Conor Clancy; “There are plenty of young exiting players coming through and all is not lost. It’s a shame for a lot of the talented players that they won’t have the chance to play in their first WC until they’re in their late 20s, but with Caldara, Conti, Rugani, Gagliardini and the rest coming through, there are reasons for long term optimism. Not being at 2018 is huge, but there are players coming through who can bring Italy back to challenging for the World Cup in 2022 and 2026.”
In the end the final word went to Buffon, ““We’re stubborn and hard-headed. After ugly falls we find a way to rise back up. A lot of these kids are talented, including Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mattia Perin. I wish them a lot of luck.”