MILAN, Nov 14, (AFP): After the initial shock and disbelief, heartbroken Italians on Tuesday demanded answers as to why the one-time stars of the global game had missed the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.
The Italian press called it an “apocalypse” for the four-time world champions, who failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup but 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 with federation chief Carlo Tavecchio also under pressure to resign.
“As you know, it’s up to the boss to take responsibility. If I were him (Tavecchio), I’d resign,” said Giovanni Malago, the president of Italian Olympic Committee CONI.
For many the defeat reflects a profound malaise in Italian football with the 2006 World Cup triumph having been followed by early exits from the last two World Cups.
Sports Minister Luca Lotti lamented “a very sad day for sport”.
“It’s clear we must rebuild the world of football and that we have to make decisions that we may not have had the courage to take in recent years,” said Lotti.
“We did not discover the problems yesterday. We have been eliminated in the group phase of the last two World Cups. There is so much to do, now we must take this opportunity to rebuild Italian football from youth level up to Serie A.”
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.
The former Torino coach said he would first talk to the federation president before making a decision on his future.
“Resign? I don’t know. I have to evaluate an infinity of things. I have not yet spoken to the president,” said Ventura. “It doesn’t depend on me, I’m not in the state of mind to face this question.
“It’s a very heavy result to bear, because I was absolutely convinced that we had this ferocious desire to overcome the obstacle.”
Fans were struggling to come to terms with the prospect of a World Cup without their team.
“It is really very sad because watching the World Cup was something that really brought us together as Italians,” said graduate Stefania Pusateri.
“But what is sure is that the shock will be even worse for my father. He is 54 years old and he has never had to go through something like this.”
Drinking coffee the morning after, young Roman Carlo said Ventura did not deserve all the blame.
“The truth is we haven’t replaced the players we had in the past. World-class players like Roberto Baggio, (Alessandro) Del Piero, (Francesco) Totti: they just aren’t there any more.”
The economic fallout of defeat was immediately felt with shares in the country’s leading sports paper La Gazetta dello sport plummeting on the Milan stock exchange.
Shares were suspended in the middle of the afternoon after dropping 8.83 percent.
“The fact that Italy will not participate in the World Cup is a new negative for the media sector,” said analysts Equita of the global showcase which “attracts important advertising revenue”.
La Gazzetta generated over two million euros in additional revenue from advertising during Euro 2016.
Its banner headline on Tuesday morning stated simply: “End”, while a headline on its website declared: “Italy, this is the apocalypse.”
“Wasted chances, a bit of bad luck but zero goals in 180 minutes against the Swedes, who will go to Russia,” the daily commented.
Corriere dello Sport said it will be painful to be on the sidelines when the action starts in Russia in June.
“It is an intolerable football shame, an indelible stain,” the newspaper said.
“It is over. Apocalypse, tragedy, catastrophe.”