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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

SPORT

PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

The Tokyo Olympics were Italy's best Games yet, with Italian athletes taking home more medals than ever before. Here are the highlights.

PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs and Gianmarco Tamberi celebrate after winning golds in the 100m sprint and high jump. Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

With ten golds, ten silvers and 20 bronzes, the Azzurri representing Italy in Tokyo were tenth on the medal table overall and top in Italian sporting history.

Previously the most medals Italy had ever won at a single Olympics was 36, which the country hadn’t equalled since the Rome Games in 1960.

READ ALSO: ‘Do Italy just win everything now?’: Celebrations after Italian athletes take Olympic gold

As well as a ceremony at the presidential palace in September, Italy’s Olympic champions will be welcomed back with prize money from the Italian National Olympic Committee: gold medalists are awarded €180,000 each, while silver medallists get €90,000 and bronze medallists get €60,000.

And then there’s the glory: after an exceptionally successful summer of Italian sport and music, Italy’s Olympic team dubbed their athletes “stupor mundi” – Latin for ‘the wonder of the world’. 

Italy’s gold medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Men’s high jump: Gianmarco Tamberi

Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi couldn’t have been happier to share the gold with his fellow competitor Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar, in what was hailed as one of the most touching moments of the Games. 

Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP
  • Men’s 100m: Lamont Marcell Jacobs

Relatively unknown long jumper-turned-sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs was in the form of his life when he outran the favourites and hurtled to first place in the biggest race in men’s athletics. He’s the first Italian ever to qualify for the Olympic final of the event, let alone win it.

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 4 x 100m relay 

Lorenzo Patta, Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Eseosa Desalu and Filippo Tortu pulled off an astonishing victory by the smallest of margins, with Tortu flinging himself over the finish line to snatch gold from the favourites, Great Britain, by just a hundredth of a second. It was another historic first for Italy: the country has never before won the event, and the last time an Italian team got onto the podium was at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (silver). 

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 20km race walk: Massimo Stano
  • Women’s 20km race walk: Antonella Palmisano

Antonella Palmisano cemented Italy’s domination of the walking competition when she followed up her teammate Massimo Stano’s gold with her own victory a day later. She actually performed slightly faster at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but that time only earned her fourth last time round.

Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP
  • Track cycling, men’s team pursuit

Italy’s four-man team set a new track cycling world record by completing 16 laps (4km) in just 3:42.032. While Great Britain had long dominated the event and Denmark were reigning World Champions, no Italian team had won it since the Rome Olympics of 1960.

Photo by Greg Baker / AFP
  • Karate, men’s kumite -75kg: Luigi Busa
  • Rowing, lightweight women’s double sculls 
Valentina Rodini (L) and Federica Cesarini (R) celebrate their win in the lightweight women’s double sculls final. Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP
  • Sailing, mixed multihull – Nacra 17 foiling
  • Taekwondo, Men’s -58kg: Vito Dell’Aquila

Vito Dell’Aquila won Italy its first gold of the Games, at the age of just 20. It was his first Olympics but at this rate, it won’t be his last.

Photo by Javier SORIANO / AFP

Italy’s silver medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Artistic gymnastics, women’s floor exercise: Vanessa Ferrari

Arguably Italy’s greatest competing gymnast, 30-year-old Vanessa Ferrari proved the value of experience when she became the first Italian to win an individual Olympic medal for women’s artistic gymnastics.

Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP
  • Men’s individual archery: Mauro Nespoli
  • Men’s kayak single 200m: Manfredi Rizza
  • Fencing, men’s foil individual: Daniele Garrozo
  • Fencing, men’s sabre individual: Luigi Samele
  • Fencing, men’s sabre team

Fencing has long been one of Italy’s strongest sports, and these Games were no exception. Altogether Italian fencers took three silvers and two bronzes in both team and individual events. 

Italy’s Luca Curatoli (L) competes against South Korea’s Gu Bongil in the men’s sabre team gold medal bout. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
  • Women’s skeet shooting: Diana Bacosi
  • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay
  • Swimming, men’s 800m freestyle: Gregorio Paltrinieri 
  • Weightlifting, women’s 64kg: Giorgia Bordignon
    Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

    Italy’s bronze medals at the 2020 Olympics

    • Women’s individual archery: Lucilla Boari
    • Women’s featherweight boxing: Irma Testa

    Irma “Butterfly” Testa made history as the first Italian woman to win an Olympic medal for boxing, a victory she dedicated to all of Italy’s female boxers.

    Photo by Luis ROBAYO / POOL / AFP
    • Women’s cycling road race: Elisa Longo Borghini 
    • Track cycling, men’s omnium: Elia Viviani 
    • Men’s 10km marathon swimming: Gregorio Paltrinieri 

    Gregorio Paltrinieri is one of the best long-distance swimmers there is, holding the men’s world record for the 1500m freestyle. He comes home from Tokyo with two medals: silver in the 800m freestyle, and bronze in the gruelling 10km swim.

    Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP
    • Swimming, men’s 100m breaststroke: Nicolo Martinenghi
    • Swimming, men’s 100m butterfly: Federico Burdisso
    • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m medley relay
    • Swimming, women’s 800m freestyle: Simona Quadarella 
    • Judo, women’s -52kg: Odette Giuffrida
    Photo by Franck FIFE / AFP
    • Judo, women’s -63kg: Maria Centracchio
    • Fencing, women’s épée team
    • Fencing, women’s foil team 
    • Karate, women’s kata: Viviana Bottaro

    Accomplished karateka Viviana Bottaro won Italy its first Olympic medal in karate, which made its debut at the Tokyo Games. 

    Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
    • Rowing, lightweight men’s double sculls
    • Rowing, men’s four
    • Rhythmic gymnastics, group all-around

    Nicknamed le Farfalle (‘the Butterflies’), Italy’s five-woman rhythmic gymnastic team provided one of Italy’s last medal-winning performances on the final day of the Games, and one of the most spectacular.

    Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
    • Weightlifting, men’s 67kg: Mirko Zanni 
    • Weightlifting, men’s 81kg: Antonino Pizzolato
    • Wrestling, men’s freestyle 97kg: Abraham de Jesus Conyedo Ruano 
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