Italy misses out on World Cup berth for first time since 1958

Italian soccer players are dejected after their crushing loss to SwedenThe 2018 World Cup will be without one of its most iconic teams as four-time champion Italy failed to qualify for the tournament for the first time in 60 years. Italy and Sweden played to a scoreless draw on Monday, giving Sweden the European qualification playoff win by a 1-0 aggregate score and sending shockwaves through the world of Italian soccer.

Italy was forced into a playoff after finishing second in their qualification group behind Spain. Sweden and Italy were the two best teams in the playoff round according to FIFA ranking, and luck of the draw placed them together. Sweden deserves full credit for keeping Italy off the scoreboard and being opportunistic in their 1-0 home victory last Friday, but blame for Italy’s loss will fall squarely on those involved, such as manager Gian Piero Ventura, who might have trouble finding work in the domestic league after his showing with the national team.

The Italian team struggled for consistency under Ventura, and it showed in both games against Sweden. Italy looked disorganized in the opening leg and lacked for a quality finish in the second, with numerous long shots sailing well over the crossbar. Ventura’s decision to leave prolific Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne on the bench is already being scrutinized, as is his choice to use a rigid and ineffective 3-5-2 formation in both playoff matches. The warning signs about Ventura’s managerial shortcomings were present in a blowout loss to Spain earlier in qualifying, and now he carries the indignity of being the only solo Italian team manager to miss a World Cup, since the 1958 blunder was overseen by a rotating committee of managers.

Monday’s loss also spells a disappointing end to Gianluigi Buffon’s World Cup career. The legendary netminder turns 40 in January, which means he will be 44 by the time the 2022 tournament happens. Buffon is one of three remaining national team members who played on the World Cup champion 2006 squad, along with defender Andrea Barzagli and midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who watched Monday’s match from the bench. The humiliation of failing to qualify should lead to a widespread roster turnover of Italy’s national team, with many veterans likely out, including the famed back line of Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini.