So who among the football biggies are not going to Russia next year for the 2018 World Cup? There is Chile, the South American champion; The Netherlands, a perennial contender for football’s biggest prize but never a winner; and the last not to make it to the 32-team draw is Italy, former four-time champion.
In Milan for the home game on November 13, the Italians settled for a shock scoreless draw, enabling Sweden to progress to world football’s biggest tournament on a 1-0 aggregate (the visitors won the home match, 1-0, in Stockholm months ago).
We watched online the humbling of the Azzurris, as members of the Italian national eleven are endearingly referred to, by Sweden, a “technically inferior” but a “defiant” and “belligerent” one, according to a published report from the wires.
In this corner’s opinion, the visitors had an excellent goalkeeper in Robin Olsen, preventing many an Italian attempt at goal (six of them on target) from hitting the back of the net.
They also apparently were not intimidated by Italy, which had more ball possessions than their dogged if not “boring” rivals.
Try watching a tennis match between two baseliners and you will know what boring is.
Also, the stoic Scandinavians seemed to have gotten the better of the flamboyant Italians, whose razzle-dazzle play many of their fans are more familiar with and are expecting from the side that last held aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy in 2006.
That year was also the last World Cup that featured Sweden.
In the Milan match, also according to the wire report, it could have been worse for the Azzurris as Sweden “was denied what looked like two clear-cut penalties for handballs one by Matteo Darmian and then Andrea Barzagli.”
Maybe, the Spanish referee did not see them although from where we sat while watching the game on YouTube, they looked like handballs.
It’s a pity that such a great team as Italy would be watching the 2018 World Cup from the sidelines.
Azzurri coach Gian Piero Ventura, however, was gracious in defeat, hinting that his boys should have gained passage to Russia: “I want to apologize to the Italian people for the result. Not for the commitment, and the desire and everything else but for the result.”
The bottomline is that football fans around the world wouldn’t be seeing the kit that was to be worn by the Azzurris in Russia.
They can settle for what could be an old one in a photo accompanying this column.