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‘Italy, this is the apocalypse’: Azzurri fail to make World Cup

A tearful Gianluigi Buffon quit international football as four-time champions Italy sensationally missed out on their first World Cup finals in 60 years after a playoff defeat to Sweden.

'Italy, this is the apocalypse': Azzurri fail to make World Cup
Italy players dejected after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP.

Coach Gian Piero Ventura also said he would consider his future after the Azzuri drew 0-0 on Monday in the second leg of their tie with Sweden, who qualified 1-0 on aggregate.

Distraught Italian fans reacted with shock and disbelief while the Italian press called it an “apocalypse” for the team, who last failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup and have played every other edition apart from the inaugural tournament in 1930.

“I'm not sorry for myself but all of Italian football, because we failed at something which also means something on a social level,” said an emotional Buffon as he confirmed his retirement.

The 39-year-old goalkeeper, who lifted the 2006 World Cup in Germany, who had been hoping to compete in a record sixth World Cup.


Gianluigi Buffon mourns. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP.

Buffon, who has 175 international caps, had already announced that the World Cup finals in Russia would be his last.

But Ventura made no announcement about his position despite failing to lead the 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 winners to their 19th World Cup.

The former Torino coach said he would first talk to the Italian federation president before making a decision on his future.

“Resign? I don't know. I have to evaluate an infinity of things. I have not yet spoken to the president,” said Ventura. “It doesn't depend on me, I'm not in the state of mind to face this question.”

“It's a very heavy result to bear, because I was absolutely convinced that we had this ferocious desire to overcome the obstacle.”

Italian fans were struggling to come to terms with the prospect of a World Cup without their national team.

“It is really very sad because watching the World Cup was something that really brought us together as Italians,” said recent graduate Stefania Pusateri, heading for the exit after watching the match in a Rome bar.

“But what is sure is that the shock will be even worse for my father. He is 54 years old and he has never had to go through something like this.”

Another Rome resident Enrico Doddi summed up the national disappointment, saying: “You cannot have a good World Cup without Italy.”


Italy supporters watch in Milan. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP.

The game at Milan's San Siro stadium witnessed a generational shift for Italy, with Buffon and fellow 2006 veterans Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi all quitting the team, while Giorgio Chiellini also hung up his Azzurri jersey.

“The era of four or five veterans comes to a close, the one of the hungry young players coming through begins and that's how it should be,” said Ventura, who took over from Chelsea coach Antonio Conte in 2016 with a contract until June 2020.

Italy dominated possession but struggled to create enough clear-cut chances, as Sweden secured a first appearance at the finals since 2006 courtesy of Jakob Johansson's first-leg strike in Stockholm.

Ventura had made changes from Friday's defeat with Brazil-born Jorginho making his Italy debut and Alessandro Florenzi and Manolo Gabbiadini also handed starts, although Napoli's in-form winger Lorenzo Insigne was again left on the bench.

As the clock ticked down, De Rossi was asked by Ventura to warm up but he pointed at Insigne instead.

“I just said we were near the end and had to win, so send the strikers to warm up,” said De Rossi. “I pointed to Insigne too. I just thought perhaps it was better that Insigne come on instead.”

Buffon even came up for two corners in a final desperate gamble but Italy fell desperately short, leading to damning headlines in the Italian press.

“Italy, this is the apocalypse,” ran a headline on the website of sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Wasted chances, a bit of bad luck but zero goals in 180 minutes against the Swedes, who will go to Russia,” Gazzetta commented.

Corriere dello Sport, said it will be painful for the country to be on the sidelines when the World Cup kicks off in Russia in June.

“It is an intolerable football shame, an indelible stain,” the newspaper said.

“It is over. Apocalypse, tragedy, catastrophe.”

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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