Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Italy’s fateful World Cup play-off defeat to Sweden, the start of their recent heartbreak with the tournament. 

The Azzurri had looking surprisingly decent at Euro 2016 under Antonio Conte and were only knocked out in the quarter-finals after a tough penalty shoot-out against Germany. It was a positive step forward for Italy following their terrible work at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and soon fans were looking ahead excitedly to the next tournament in Russia in 2018.

Things quickly went wrong for the Azzurri under Gian Piero Ventura. They were drawn into a World Cup qualifying group containing Spain, Albania, Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein, leaving them fighting with the 2010 World Cup winners for a direct qualification spot to the tournament in Russia.

The first sign of trouble came on October 2016, when Italy only managed a 1-1 draw at home against Spain. A 3-0 loss to La Roja 11 months later left them on the back foot and it quickly became clear that Ventura’s side would need to fight through the play-offs to book their spot in Russia.

Italy were drawn against Sweden in the play-offs, an opponent most in the Italian peninsula expected to beat with ease. The first leg at the Friends Arena in Solna saw the Azzurri suffer a shock 1-0 loss following a Jakob Johansson strike and the pressure was on for the return game in San Siro.

Unfortunately, in front of over 72,000 adoring supporters, Italy failed to find the crucial breakthrough on November 13 2017 and were held to a 0-0 draw, leaving them crumpled on the ground in tears after the final whistle. 

The play-off defeat meant that Italy missed out on the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, the only other time in history they’d failed to reach the tournament. Unfortunately for the players and supporters, the gap between this and the next World Cup absence was far, far shorter. 

4 thought on “Five years since the beginning of Italy’s World Cup nightmares”
  1. It hurts even more this time around. Against Sweden and a group with Spain you think, OK it has to happen every 60 years or so you don’t qualify. But this time Italy really threw it away.

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