Italians prepare for a World Cup without the Azzurri

For the first time since 1958, football-mad Italy will follow a World Cup finals from the sidelines without their national team.

Italians prepare for a World Cup without the Azzurri
Italy's football fans watch the Azzurri lose their shot at a place in the World Cup finals. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

Four-time winners Italy have been in chaos since their shock elimination in the play-offs last November to Sweden.

But on a club level Italy have had a good season, with Roma reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League and Juventus the quarter-finals, with Lazio going as far as the Europa League last eight. In Serie A, there was a gripping battle until the end for the title with Juventus securing a seventh Scudetto in succession on Sunday.

But as the season draws to a close, Italy will be braced for a sad run up to a World Cup from June 14th to July 15th in which they will have no role.

Over the next four weeks, while the world of football will be buzzing with news of pre-tournament friendlies, team selections and training camps, Italy will be just a sparring partner, playing pre-tournament warm-ups against France and Saudi Arabia.

“I'm going to regret it all my life,” said heartbroken goalkeeping star Gianluigi Buffon. “We've deprived children of having a heart which beats for the World Cup.”

On football pitches in Rome and throughout the peninsula, Italian children now say they want to support Argentina, “because [Juventus's Paulo] Dybala is so strong,” or Belgium, “where Roma's [Radja] Nainggolan plays.”

READ ALSO: The saddest reactions to Italy's World Cup flop

Gianluigi Buffon in tears after Italy's World Cup elimination. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

'Tough to watch'

Goalkeeping legend Dino Zoff, however, believes enthusiasm for the World Cup will be undiminished among his compatriots.

“It doesn't feel like a World Cup but the fans will be there. Where there will be less will be in Russia. But Italians will watch it on television,” said the 1982 World Cup winner. “People in Italy are very attached to football and they will still follow it. But it might be tough to watch a little-known side play while our team, which has carved its name into footballing history with four World Cup titles, stays at home.”

For Roberto Gandolfi, vice-president of Italian sportswear group Errea, who will be present in Russia as the kit supplier of Iceland, Italy's absence will have above all a financial cost.

“We have Iceland and it's very positive but when you think of TV, that sort of thing obviously there will be harm. It probably won't be fully realized until after the tournament,” Gandolfi told AFP.

READ ALSO: Five things that explain Italy's World Cup disaster

More than six months after their elimination, Italy have slipped to an historic low of 20th in the world rankings.

“We have to wait for the young players. They are there. I think we have a group of 20-25 players who can succeed with a bit of experience,” said Zoff.

“Not seeing the Azzurri won't be nice for us, it won't be the same World Cup,” said Roberto Mancini, the former Manchester City boss who has signed on to coach the Azzurri back to glory. “We need to believe the national side can return to among the best in the world.”

For Mancini, Italy “does not have the great champions that they always had, but they have good players because good players are always being born in Italy”.

While awaiting this future generation, the country will follow the World Cup as outsiders, where they will be best represented among the referees, with four including three in charge of video assistant replay (VAR) among the 13 selected by Pierluigi Collina, another Italian. 

READ ALSO: The workshop that makes eliminated Italy home of the World Cup

Photo: AFP

By Stanislas Touchot


Champions League: Eight arrested after fans clash with police in Naples

Smoke bombs, flares, chairs, bottles and metal poles were thrown at police in Naples' historic centre on Wednesday, as Eintracht Frankfurt fans descended on the city despite a ban.

Champions League: Eight arrested after fans clash with police in Naples

Three German football fans and five Italians were arrested following violence in Naples before and after Napoli’s Champions League win over Eintracht Frankfurt, a local official said on Thursday.

Six police officers were injured in violence on Wednesday evening, according to Alessandro Giuliano, who is responsible for public safety in Naples.

Police were in the process of identifying 470 German fans who arrived in the city, and were scouring images to establish those responsible for the disorder, he told a press conference.

Dozens of supporters of Atalanta also joined forces with supporters of the German side, with whom they are twinned.

The first clashes occurred on Wednesday afternoon in Naples’ historic centre, and continued after the match, an easy 3-0 win for Napoli which took them through to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time.

Smoke bombs and flares, chairs, bottles and metal poles were thrown at police, who responded with tear gas. Later, Napoli fans were filmed by Italian media throwing objects at buses carrying Eintracht fans.

Naples mayor Gaetano Manfredi condemned the “unacceptable” violence, while opposition politicians have questioned the government’s handling of the situation, notably by Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi.

Napoli player Juan Jesus said the disorder was “bad for the city, and bad for football”.

“Because people come, then destroy, then leave, it’s not a good thing. It’s not possible to still see this in 2023, we are sorry to see these scenes,” he said.

The German supporters had travelled to southern Italy, with many arriving in Naples by train, even though Eintracht decided against selling tickets for the away section in Naples for the second leg of the last 16 tie.

Eintracht Frankfurt fans clash with anti-riot police after arriving in Naples despite not having tickets for their team’s Champions League decider with Napoli. (Photo by Ciro FUSCO / ANSA / AFP)

The Frankfurt club decided not to take up their allocation after the Naples prefecture decided on Sunday to ban residents of the German city from buying tickets.

A earlier Italian ban on Eintracht fans who lived anywhere in Germany was overturned.

Sunday’s decision came after violence in the first leg that was won 2-0 by Napoli in Frankfurt, which led to nine people being taken into custody.

Eintracht fans have been under close surveillance by European governing body UEFA since the pitch invasion which greeted the club reaching the final of the Europa League, which they won by beating Scottish club Rangers.