MILAN: Four-time champions Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades after losing their playoff to Sweden 1-0 on aggregate early this morning.
They played to a goalless draw in the second leg at San Siro.
Sweden advanced to their first World Cup since 2006.
It could have been worse for Italy, as Sweden were denied what looked like two clear-cut penalties for handballs, first by Matteo Darmian and then Andrea Barzagli.
Italy had a penalty appeal of their own waved off by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz when Marco Parolo was tripped from behind by Ludwig Augsustinsson. But the Italians struggled to carve out clear chances against a solid Sweden side, and really tested goalkeeper Robin Olsen only once.
This will only be the second World Cup missed by Italy. The first was in 1958. The last major competitions Italy failed to qualify for were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.
It would be easy to lay the blame squarely on Gian Piero Ventura. The Italy coach will naturally take the lion’s share but the team’s problems run much deeper. The rot started long before Ventura took charge.
After winning the World Cup in 2006 for a fourth time, Italy went out at the group stage of the next two editions. It fared somewhat better at the European Championship, reaching the final in 2012 and going out in the quarterfinals in 2008 and 2016.
However, Antonio Conte’s Italy side overachieved in France last year, when they surprisingly beat Spain in the round of 16 before losing on penalties to world champion Germany.
For a long time, Italy have lacked a creative force. The likes of Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti of the 2006 side could change a match with one moment of magic.
Both are long retired. Mario Balotelli was the star of Euro 2012 but fell out of favor after Italy’s woeful showing at the last World Cup, and hasn’t been called up by Ventura, while Conte selected him in only one squad.