One of world football’s most storied — and successful — teams will not be heading to next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Italy, who have appeared at the finals of every World Cup since missing out in 1958, were held to a goalless draw by Sweden in Milan. The Swedes advance to next summer’s tournament courtesy of an aggregate score of 1-0 for the playoff tie.
Played in front of 70,000 at Milan’s San Siro stadium, the pace was frenetic as the four-time champions looked to overturn the single-goal deficit from the first leg, with Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Jakob Johansson all receiving early yellow cards.
Despite peppering the Swedish goal with shots over the course of 90 minutes, Italy’s formidable strike force could not break down their opponent’s defense.
Sweden head to the finals for the first time since Germany 2006. Italy won that edition of the tournament.
Four-time winners Italy won’t be the only big names who are missing FIFA’s centerpiece tournament next summer.
Perennial favorites the Netherlands, back-to-back South American champions Chile, and the United States, which had been a fixture at the finals for the last seven tournaments, all failed to make the grade this time around.
And another World Cup behemoth came close to crashing out — only a heroic, hat-trick performance by talisman Lionel Messi in their final game saved Argentina’s blushes.
The loss also heralds the end of the career of Gianluigi Buffon, Italy’s most-capped player and former captain.
“It’s a shame my last official game coincided with the failure to qualify for the World Cup,” he said, according to the BBC.
“Blame is shared equally between everyone. There can’t be scapegoats.”
His teammate Daniele De Rossi, who played for the azzuri 116 times, scoring 21 times, also announced he was hanging up his boots.
“My adventure here ends,” he said, according to a tweet from his club, Roma. “It’s sad to think this was the last time I will wear these colors. But I couldn’t be more proud of the journey, everyone I’ve played alongside.”
Buffon’s Juventus teammate Giorgio Chellini is also expected to retire, and Italy boss Giampiero Ventura is also reportedly under fire and expected to resign.
Buffon, Di Rossi and Chellini were all part of the 2006 World Cup-winning squad.
However, Sweden’s progression offers hope for the reemergence of one of Europe’s most successful strikers.
Zlatan Ibrahimovich, who hasn’t played for his country since retiring after the Euro 2016 competition, has been the subject of speculation about an audacious return to the international stage in Russia.
Following the Swedes’ qualification, he tweeted out a photo of the squad, with the words: “We are Zweden,” a play on his name, which has been seen as a hint that he will once again don his country’s yellow jersey.
Elsewhere, Croatia drew 0-0 with Greece but advanced to the finals 4-1 on aggregate, while Switzerland broke Northern Irish hearts by holding on to another goalless draw, advancing 1-0 on aggregate after a controversial penalty in the first leg. Play-offs continue, with 29 of 32 berths already decided.
The draw for the finals takes place in Moscow on Friday December 1.