Chennai: The Fifa World Cup 2018 in Russia lost a heavyweight on Monday night after four-time champions Italy failed to qualify for the mega event. Having lost the away leg against Sweden by a goal, the Azzurri could only play out a goalless draw in front of 70,000 passionate fans at the San Siro in Milan. It is the first time the football aristocrats have not made the cut for the World Cup since 1958.
Italy are not only one of the successful teams in World Cup history, they also have a well-earned reputation for enriching the tournament with their football sophistication. Defence is a refined art for generations of Italians rather than a crude, destructive pursuit on the field. The absence of the Azzurri will certainly leave Russia poorer because the World Cup is all about the meeting of giants such as Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain.
After missing automatic qualification by finishing behind Spain in the group stage, Italy approached their two-legged play-off against Sweden with confidence. But a wretched first leg, which Sweden won thanks to a deflected goal, came back to haunt them in Milan. A bundle of nerves and the lack of a cutting edge undermined them in the return leg, although the referee kept their chances alive till the final whistle by not awarding Sweden two cast-iron penalties.
The fallout has been swift as Italy gather to pick up the pieces. Legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, midfielder Daniele De Rossi and defender Giorgio Chiellini will not be seen in the famous Azzurri jersey again. But coach Gian Piero Ventura, the man many deem responsible for the catastrophe, has, inexplicably, vowed to carry on.