Italy lost in the playoff stages of the World Cup, leading captain Buffon and other notable players to announce their retirement.
It’s tantamount to a national disaster. One of the world’s greatest footballing nations is missing out on the first World Cup tournament since 1958. It’s, however, in many ways an expected failure after a series of bad performances and results since the start of the campaign.
The failure of the four-time World Cup winners to qualify had quick consequences. First, the team’s captain and national hero, Gianluigi Buffon, announced his retirement from international football. Participating the tournament would have represented the goalkeeper’s sixth presence on the biggest football stage, a record. Substitute Donnarumma will certainly have big boots to fill.
The game ended in a goalless draw, with Sweden going through with 0-1 on aggregate. The defeat signaled the end of an era for Italy. It’s also, in many ways, the twilight of a generation. Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi’s comments after the game seem to suggest they have taken the decision to retire. Imposing defender Giorgio Chiellini is said to be considering his future in the Squadra Azzura. Additionally, Italian maestro and former national team star, Andrea Pirlo announced his retirement. It’s effectively the swan song for the generation that brought Italy the World Cup in 2006, their most recent victory.
Andrea Barzagli talked about the difficulty of coming to terms to the defeat that has come as a shock the football world: “In football terms, it’s the biggest disappointment of my life. The Italy side gives you unique sensations. It gives you goosebumps, creates friendships between all the Italy fans. It’s a real shame to end like this. I don’t know what we missed, all I know is we’re out of the World Cup, it’s a unique disappointment and leaving this group of lads is painful. Everyone has their own feelings, but it’s really hard to accept right now.”
Gian Piero Ventura is expected to step down as manager of Italy. It’s not only the result in itself. As far as fans are concerned, it’s the ultimate crime of playing football that never seemed to have been thought with an end-goal in sight. After all, Squadra Azzura is the ultimate side in terms of getting a result despite any setbacks.
Ventura claims the result was unfair: “It’s an incorrect result. It needed more attention from the referee. Now I hope that at San Siro they allow us what the referee allowed them tonight. A draw was the minimum we could’ve expected considering the two performances. I repeat, at this level, the referee needed to be more attentive. There were chances from [Andrea] Belotti and Darmian. After the first 90 minutes they are ahead, now I hope that San Siro will give us a hand.”
It’s the on of an era for Italy, but not the end of days. The national team will be reorganized. An interesting generation of players looks ready to take more responsibility. Updates on the managerial and squad situation should be updated in the following days.