Milan (AFP) – Stunned Italians awoke Tuesday to the nightmarish realisation they will miss out on the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.
Distraught fans of the one-time top dogs of the global game reacted with shock and disbelief.
The Italian press called it an “apocalypse” for the team, who last failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup and have played every other edition apart from the inaugural tournament in 1930.
Tearful captain Gianluigi Buffon quit international football and coach Gian Piero Ventura said he would consider his future after the Azzurri drew 0-0 with Sweden on Monday to lose 1-0 on aggregate.
There was disbelief among the 75,000 fans in Milan’s San Siro Stadium with 14.8 million stunned Italians watching their national fall from grace on television.
The Italian football federation called crisis talks for Wednesday with 69-year-old Ventura expected to be sacked.
“We are deeply affected and disappointed,” said federation president Carlo Tavecchio. “It’s a sporting failure that requires shared solutions by everyone.”
For many the defeat reflected a profound malaise in Italian football with the 2006 World Cup triumph having been followed by group stage exits from the last two World Cups.
“It’s the biggest Italian sports catastrophe of the last 60 years, which cannot be blamed on the coach,” former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni told Rai Radio 1, suggesting a total clearout of the hierarchy.
“The results are missing at the national level, clubs, from grassroots level basically. There is a problem in Italian football, that concerns the management, down the ranks.
“A new president, a new coach, are needed. After (Alessandro) Del Piero and (Francesco) Totti there is a fundamental problem in Italian football lacking authority.”
For Buffon it was a national catastrophe more than a personal disappointment.
“I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football, because we failed at something which also means something on a social level,” he said.
The 39-year-old goalkeeper, who has 175 international caps and was an integral part of the 2006 World Cup victory in Germany, had been hoping to compete in a record sixth World Cup.
But Ventura made no announcement about his position despite failing to lead the 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 winners to their 19th World Cup.
– ‘Resign? I don’t know’ –
The former Torino coach said he would first talk to the federation president before making a decision on his future.