When preparing to deliver the very last corner kick in Italy-Sweden, just moments before referee Mateu Lahoz blew the final whistle, Alessandro Florenzi kissed the ball. He put all his hopes, as well as one nation’s hopes, into that ball. It didn’t work. The Swedish fort held a few seconds more, and the score remained set on 0-0. Italy failed to overturn their 0-1 loss from three days ago in Solna, and missed the last train to Russia.
We decided to open with the image of Alessandro Florenzi – a clean, young face of Italian football – as we believe him to be one of the few players from which the inevitable new course of calcio needs to start. And it needs to start now – as soon as we wipe off the tears at an historical, shameful debacle: Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Daniele De Rossi, all announced that they are leaving the Nazionale right after the game. Fair enough, it’s time to change.
Italy will not take part to World Cup 2018. It is going to be the first time since 1958, the third one in 21 editions of the top football competition and, deep inside ourselves, we believe that this is the right outcome. This Italy does not deserve to be at the World Cup.
This football federation, led by unpresentable Carlo Tavecchio, who put in charge of the Nazionale a coach with zero international experience, does not deserve it. This coach, Gian Piero Ventura, who distinguished himself for his arrogance, even more than for his unfitness to lead the Azzurri, does not deserve it. These Italians at San Siro stadium, who put more energy into booing at the Swedish national anthem and at the opponents, than into supporting their own team, do not deserve it.
The Cult of Calcio saves only the players tonight. They, at least, did try to win this game – for as long as they had some fuel left in the tank. Far from seeing organization, far from seeing any bel gioco, but the players in the blue jerseys stepped into the pitch with the right attitude and created at least 4 clear chances before half time. However, in football “those who score, win”, an old wise man once said – and facts say that Italy failed to deliver a single goal to a technically inferior Sweden in 180 minutes.
Coach Ventura (coach for how long more, it’s up for debate…) proposed three change versus the lineup that had lost in Sweden: Manolo Gabbiadini replaced Andrea Belotti on the forward line; Alessandro Florenzi took the place of veteran Daniele De Rossi – who ended up playing his last match with the Azzurri three days ago. But the most unexpected change was sending in Jorginho for his debut from the start, in place of disqualified Marco Verratti: It looked like a desperate move, rather than a conscious hazard.
72000 people were ready to support the Azzurri in San Siro stadium, for the most arduous task in their recent history. Yet, after displaying a beautiful pre-match choreography, our fellow countrymen lost a good chance to keep their mouth shut, as they loudly whistled at the Swedish national anthem. Mention of honor for captain Gianluigi Buffon, another one who sadly called his Nazionale experience to an end tonight, who responded with applauses. We will miss him, even for small gestures like this.
The Azzurri took control of the operations from the very beginning. The attitude shown was the right one. The Suedes, they did what they were supposed to do: Trying to control the game and prevent Italy from creating chances. Can you blame them? It was not an easy night anyway for coach Janne Andersson and his boys, whose best men proved to be goalkeeper Robin Olsen, and captain Andreas Granqvist – but who, once again, displayed a pretty low technical level.
Referee Mateu Lahoz distinguished himself for his peculiar way of literally pushing away players who came to protest at him. He let the boys play, even too much – as he skipped over at least three chances that could have been punished with a penalty: the Swedish protested at two hand fouls in the box by Andrea Barzagli and Matteo Darmian, whereas the Azzurri recriminated when Marco Parolo was pushed down by Ludwig Augustinsson.
It took only a few minutes for Jorginho to make his past missed utilization by Ventura even more regretful, as 15 minutes into the game he served Ciro Immobile with a long pass that the Lazio striker managed to control somehow, but only to deliver out of target. Another combination between the two, with the Napoli playmaker serving Immobile on the left side of the box, earned Italy another clear possibility: This time, Immobile crossed on the other side, but Antonio Candreva missed the shot from a good position.
With the clock striking minute 40, Italy produced their best chance to score, again as a consequence of an exchange between Jorginho and Immobile: the Neapolitan’s pass was a perfect one, Immobile’s shot was slightly deflected by goalkeeper Olsen, then Granqvist cleared the ball away before it could surpass the goal line.
Alessandro Florenzi tried to break the balance again just before half time, penetrating from the left flank into the box, to produce a quick shot that Olsen parried back. It was still the Roma winger, a few minutes after the break, to go for the shot as he caught a cross by Darmian from the left, and tried to convert it with an acrobatic shot. Target missed, even if only narrowly.
The Azzurri’s pace inevitably started to slow down, as tiredness built over frustration at the multiple chances missed. The Scandinavians tried a few counter attacks, taking advantage of Italy’s unbalancing, but the BBC (Barzagli-Bonucci-Chiellini) controlled quite easily, and Buffon was not posed any threat against. The once-invincible Juventus defensive line closed their last exhibition with a clean sheet – a pretty meager consolation.
As the clock continued to tick, tension exploded on the bench, with Daniele De Rossi showing disappointment when Ventura asked him to warm up, and allegedly shouting: “What the hell do you need me for? Send in Insigne! We don’t need to tie, we need to win, goddammit!”
Meanwhile, on social media…Here’s how twitter user @danka72italy sees it. Caption reads: “We had to pay for these sooner or later”
In one way or another, Ventura got the message: He still kept Lorenzo Insigne on the bench, but sent in strikers Stephan El Shaarawy, Andrea Belotti, and eventually Federico Bernardeschi. The Paraoh tried to catch the Swedish goalie by surprise with a powerful long range shot, still Olsen managed to deflect. A header by Marco Parolo, served with a cross by Florenzi, produced the same outcome.
With 10 minutes to go, San Siro finally woke up and the 72000 spectators started to consistently push the Azzurri with chants and encouragements. But by that time, it was clear that Italy hadn’t it anymore. You didn’t need to wait the final whistle to understand that they were not going to score tonight. Buffon went all-in, and pushed himself into Sweden’s box twice during extra time, to support on two corner kicks.
The last one ended with Florenzi’s kiss on the ball, to propitiate a miracle that didn’t happen. Indeed, the miracle was made by the Suedes, who will participate to a World Cup for the first time since 2006.
After midnight, Gian Piero Ventura came to talk to press, after most of his senators had announced their quitting. He apologized to all the Italians, but failed to spontaneously resign.
We thought that Italy had hit rock bottom four years ago, when Uruguay sent them out from a World Cup group stage for the second time in a row. We thought that nothing could be worse than failing to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
We were painfully wrong: as of now, Ventura is still the Azzurri’s coach.
ITALY (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Candreva (76’ Bernardeschi), Parolo, Jorginho, Florenzi, Darmian (64’ El Shaarawy); Immobile, Gabbiadini (64’ Belotti). (Donnarumma, Perin, Astori, Rugani, Zappacosta, De Rossi, Gagliardini, Eder, Insigne). Coach: Ventura
SWEDEN (4-4-2): Olsen; Lustig, Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson (72’ Rhoden), Larsson, J. Johansson (19’ Svensson), Forsberg; Berg, Toivonen (54’ Thelin). (K. Johansson, Nordfeldt, Olsson, Jansson, Helander, Krafth, Svensson, Durmaz, Sema, Guidetti). Coach: Andersson
REFEREE: Mateu Lahoz (Spain)
NOTES: Attendance: 72.696; Yellow Cards: Chiellini, Immobile, Bernardeschi, Barzagli (I), Forsberg, J. Johansson, Lustig, Thelin (S); Extra Time: 3’ 1st Half; 5’ 2nd Half.
Feature Photo Credit: Reuters