Disaster for Italy as Azzurri knocked out of World Cup before it begins

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    Despite plenty of chances, Italy has been sent packing from the FIFA World Cup, unable to secure the goal they needed in the second leg of their play-off against Sweden.

    After dropping the first leg away from home 1-0 thanks to a 61st minute Jakob Johansson goal, Italy needed to win 1-0 during the second leg to send the tie into extra-time. Instead, the Azzurri held to a frustrating scoreless draw at home – one that will rule them out of the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958.

    Despite 64 per cent possession and ten shots on goal in the first leg, Italy failed to score away from home and things didn’t improve when they returned to the San Siro.

    It was even worse in the second leg for the Azzurri, who simply couldn’t finish off any of their opportunities. Italy had 77 per cent possession and 23 shots at goal, six of them on target, with seven corners, but still couldn’t put one past Sweden, who defended excellently throughout both legs of the play-off.

    Italy, who are currently ranked 15th in the world, had an ordinary qualification campaign, finishing second in their group. It sent them to the play-off and heads are sure to roll after the lacklustre performance against the Swedes.

    The result will almost certainly see the end of manager Gianpiero Ventura, while the loss marks the end of superstar goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s time in the national team.

    “I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football. We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There’s regret at finishing like that, not because time passes,” Buffon said after the result.

    However, the veteran keeper said the future was bright for the Azzurri.

    “We have pride, strength and we’re stubborn. We know how to get back up again as we’ve always done. I’m leaving an Italy side that will know how to speak for itself. Hugs to everyone, especially those I’ve shared this wonderful journey with.”

    The 0-0 draw saw the continuation of an unusual quirk in World Cup qualifying. As per ESPN’s Dale Johnson, the last six qualifiers across the globe have finished scoreless:

    Sweden were rated almost no chance of progressing to the finals, but the 25th-ranked team progressed to the play-off on goal difference, finishing second in their group ahead of the Netherlands and four points behind France.

    The last time Sweden qualified for the finals of the World Cup was in 2006, when the tournament was hosted in Germany. They made the Round of 16 in both 2006 and 2002, but since it’s been a barren run for the Scandinavian nation who were unable to qualify for 2010 in South Africa or 2014 in Brazil.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.