Azzurri fail to qualify for World Cup for first time since 1958
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Mamma Mia, here we go again. Not content with seizing their most famous expression of despair and turning it into a pop hit and a West End musical, the Swedes have returned to haunt Italy.
This time they hit the Italians where it really hurts: stealing their pride, strangling their dreams and producing a World Cup finals without the Azzurri for the first time since 1958.
The enormity will take time to digest and there will be an inevitable inquest but goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, having won his 175th and last international cap tackled the humiliation with typical dignity.
‘I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football,’ said 39-year-old Buffon, beaten by a deflected Jakob Johansson strike in the first-leg in Stockholm on Friday which proved the only goal of a two-legged tie.
‘We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There is regret at finishing like that.
‘Blame is shared equally between everyone. There cannot be scapegoats. Win together, lose together.
‘We have pride, strength and we are stubborn. We know how to get back up again as we’ve always done.
‘I am leaving an Italy side that will know how to speak for itself. Hugs to everyone, especially those I’ve shared this wonderful journey with.’
Buffon, a world champion in 2006, knows football defines Italy and can unite the country when the Azzurri are successful.
Four times they have won the World Cup and twice they have been beaten in the final.
Images of Toto Schillaci, Roberto Baggio, Luigi Riva, Marco Tardelli and Dino Zoff are woven into the history of the competition.
As, indeed, are upsets at the hands of North Korea and South Korea and in the last two finals when they failed to climb out of the group.
Usually, however, the Italians can depend on reaching the finals.
Not this time. Having finished second in a qualifying group won by Spain, they proved unable to score past Sweden in 180 minutes.
The damage was done in Stockholm where a one-goal advantage gave Jan Andersson the chance to showcase his team’s brilliant collective spirit and discipline.
Gian Piero Ventura, who replaced Antonio Conte after Euro 2016, will be at the centre of the storm as an inquest unfolds in Italy.
His contract is up next year and will not be renewed.
Chelsea manager Conte and Carlo Ancelotti, out of work since he was fired by Bayern Munich, are sure to be among those in demand.
In the San Siro, Ventura’s side dominated but it counted for little as they squandered chances and appealed desperately for intervention from the referee.