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FOOTBALL

Italy-Sweden, round two: Azzurri face World Cup ‘apocalypse’

Four-time champions Italy face missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958, a potential national humiliation likened to the "apocalypse" by the team's fanatical supporters.

Italy-Sweden, round two: Azzurri face World Cup 'apocalypse'
Italy's midfielder Marco Verratti during the Azzurri's first ill-fated play-off. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Italy need to overturn a 1-0 play-off first-leg defeat against Sweden at the San Siro in Milan on Monday night.

National coach Gian Piero Ventura insists his team will not falter but the 69-year-old gave his critics more ammunition in the build-up to the game by claiming he was “amazed people are surprised we're in the play-offs”.

“We knew from the moment we picked Spain in the group phase that we'd be heading for the play-offs. Nobody can be surprised we reached this point.

“I realise this is the way it works in Italy, but I didn't expect all this,” he added of the reaction generated by the humiliation of an impending exit.

“We started out with people talking about the apocalypse.”


Gian Piero Ventura. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP.

Italy were second to Spain in the group phase and never recovered from their confidence-denting 3-0 defeat in early September in Madrid.

Ventura has come under fire for stubbornly sticking to a failing tactical system and overlooking talented Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne, 26.

The Italy coach blamed bad luck and the referee for Friday's defeat in Stockholm.

“The first-leg performance shows that we are perfectly capable of overturning the 1-0 result.

“We analysed the things that went well and others that did not go so well. I'm fully aware that this game is fundamental for us, but it's the same scenario as when I first signed to lead the national side,” he continued.

“We will change something, because only 48 hours have passed. We hope that it'll be change for the better.”


Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP.

Marco Verratti is suspended for Monday's game with defender Leonardo Bonucci wearing a protective mask after breaking his nose in a bruising first leg against Sweden in Stockholm.

Veteran Andrea Barzagli called for Italians to get behind the team and Ventura.

“We need action and not words now,” the 36-year-old Juventus defender told Rai Sport. “It's part of the game for people to discuss tactics and formations from the outside, but the only thing that counts is what the coach decides, both for the players he picks and the shape.

“We must all be on the same page, all of Italy united, as at the end of the day we all want to go to the World Cup in Russia. Unity is essential right now.”

Captain Gianluigi Buffon, like Barzagli a veteran of the 2006 World Cup-winning campaign and looking to avoid an inglorious end to his Italy career, admitted the team were under pressure as they carry the weight of national pride.

Italy are World Cup superstars having won the competition four times – 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 – and lost two finals in 1970 and 1994.

“It is certainly a moment of high tension, considering what is at stake and the sense of responsibility each of us must bear,” said Buffon, who will earn his 175th cap in the San Siro.


Italy's veteran goalie, Gianluigi “Gigi” Buffon. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP.

“It is an important game for the history of our national team. The only thing that I would have would be a personal satisfaction, but in the wider scheme of things, I am irrelevant.”

He added: “We want to send Italians a message not with words, but with action on the pitch. We invite them to support us, but realise the time has come for us to show them what we've got.

“I would love for those who come to the stadium tomorrow to take off their club colours and all wear the Azzurri jersey that unites us all.”

Sweden – runners-up in 1958 – are desperate to return to the world stage after missing the last two editions.

And captain Andreas Granqvist believes they can cause a big upset in front of over 65,000 Italians.

“The pressure is all on them,” said the former Genoa player. “Italy are a great nation that has almost always played the World Cup. We have nothing to lose and we will go onto the pitch to give a great performance.”


Sweden fans celebrate their team's victory over Italy. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP.

FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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