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Italy Out? Now ‘This’ Is a National Disaster

November 13th, 2017 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, Italy, Rugby, soccer, Spain, World Cup

Italy went bonkers tonight. The national team, the azzurri, was held to a scoreless draw with good-but-not-special Sweden, and the home-and-away runners-up playoffs for the final four European berths at Russia 2010 went to Switzerland, Denmark, Croatia — and Sweden.

Italy stays home.

This is the biggest shock from this edition of World Cup qualifying — Italy being the four-time world champions.

Our interest today is looking at Italy failing to qualify for Russia 2018, and comparing it, for earthshaking significance, to the U.S. not making it.

Let’s cut to the chase.

The U.S. sitting out this World Cup is a disappointment, as I noted earlier on this blog.

Italy not making it is an “apocalypse”, as Italian media pointed out.

In the U.S., soccer is a rising sport, but Major League Soccer does not rank among the top four professional U.S. sports leagues — the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.

Soccer is fifth, unless you think NCAA football is a bigger deal (and I believe it is); soccer is sixth, unless you believe NCAA basketball is a bigger deal, and I do.

Meaning the U.S. failed to reach the big quadrennial event in its seventh-most-important team sport. I think most of us will get over that.

Meanwhile, Italy.

Four-time champions; did you notice that, above? Soccer is the only sport that matters, in Italy. Italy plays some rugby (no, really) and tends to win a medal or three in water sports — polo, swimming, sailing — at an Olympics.

But all that is miles and miles behind Italian soccer, at the club level and, especially, on the international level.

Italy expects to qualify. And not because, as had been the case with the U.S., the regional competition was so weak.

Italy expects to qualify because it is Italy, a serial candidate to win the tournament.

In the 10 World Cups from 1970 through 2006, Italy won twice, was runner-up twice, was a semifinalist two more times, quarterfinalists once, and failed to reach the knockout rounds only once.

The rot began to appear in 2010, as defending champions Italy went out in the group stage in South Africa.

Italy has always preferred defense to attack, but beginning in 2010 Italy had no elite striker. Still does not.

I didn’t realize, until they lost the first game to Sweden, 1-0, that Italy’s primary attacker was Ciro Immobile. As nice player with an unfortunate surname (to the English ear) who has seven goals in 30 national appearances.

Italy’s attack was inept. Pitiful.

The nation that since 1970 produced the strikers Roberto Baggio, Christian Vieri, Felippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Del Piero and Luigi Riva … needed goals from Ciro Immobile.

The lack of scoring punch was exacerbated by a breakdown in Italy’s talent line. Several key players were long past their prime yet played key roles for this Italy team: Gianluigi Buffon (39), Andrea Barzagli (36), Daniele De Rossi (34) and Giorgio Chiellini (33).

The stunning fact is that Italy is Just Not Very Good, at this moment in history.

The problems began when Italy was drawn into a Uefa qualifying group with Spain, and it was never likely the Italians would finish ahead of the Spaniards. Italy drew one and lost one, to Spain, and conceded two points in a draw away to Montenegro), and that meant the second-place playoffs.

Italy got the most difficult opponent of the four candidates, in Sweden, which no longer has Zlatan Ibrahimovic but is organized and feisty. The Swedes got a deflected goal, in their home match, and held on in Italy as the home team again failed to score.

How did Italian media react? Among the headlines: The End; The Apocalypse; It’s the Caporetto of Football.

(The latter referred to a severe military defeat suffered by Italy in World War I.)

A fan tweeted: “With Italy out of the World Cup, we’ve lost the only thing that keeps this country together.”

All of which makes it clear that Italy’s failure to advance is far, far more significant than the American stumble. For the U.S. it is an embarrassing hiccup, when all the Yanks needed was a draw in Port of Spain.

Missing a World Cup may serve to create better focus, in the U.S. and Italy soccer world. Both Italy and the U.S. seem to have a lack of stars in what ought to be players’ primes — from ages 20 to 30. Each federation needs to reassess and rebuild.

When they are done, Italy might have to beat a Spain or a France to win a qualifying group, ahead of Qatar 2022; the U.S. will merely need to finish ahead of Panama and Honduras or Trinidad & Tobago.

The Yanks have the easier path.



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