After 60 years of World Cup participation and winning the top prize four times, Italy’s national team has missed its qualification to the World Cup. Earlier this year, the chances of them not making it to the World Cup seemed as unlikely as hitting a minimum deposit casinos at one of the many out there.
But the Azzurri have been knocked out by Sweden’s national team in the play-off, which has left the fans of Italy without words and has surprised even the most dedicated fans of the Swedish “Blågult” (blue-yellow). The second leg of the two teams’ clash ended without the Italian team managing to get the ball in its opponents’ goal, which was perhaps the worst result they have feared after losing by one goal to the Swedish team just days before.
As I said before, the Italian national team has participated in the FIFA World Cup for more than half a century. The last time the team didn’t make it past the qualifications was in 1958, and it didn’t even take part in the following European Championship (known as the European Nations Cup at the time) in 1960 either. They returned to the competition in 1966 and, despite being the favourites of the Cup, they were defeated by the North Korean national team, even with such talent as Gianni Rivera and Giacomo Bulgarelli on the field. North Korean player Pak Doo-Ik, who scored the winning goal for the Korean team, was celebrated as David who defeated Goliath.
After years of bad results, the Azzurri rebounded: it scored its first major victory in an international competition when it beat Yugoslavia in the 1968 European Cup. It was the first match of such stakes to have been replayed – it was before the time of penalty shootouts, so, when the overtime ended with a score of 1-1, it had to be played again. Thanks to Luigi Riva and Pietro Anastasi, Italy won the replay 2-0.
In 1970, Italy reached the World Cup finals for the first time in over 30 years, facing Brazil on the field. They had to go through West Germany to reach the finals – the match they played has gone down in history as the “Game of the Century”. Brazil did defeat Italy – but with Pelé leading the South American squad, this was expected by many. It was Brazil’s third World Cup win – the first team to pull it off in the competition.
Over the years, Italy’s national team had varied performances in the World Cup. Sometimes, they didn’t make it through the Group Stage, but they performed well in others – they won in 1982 and 2006, they were runners-up in 1994, they finished third in 1990, and fourth in 1978. But it’s the first time since 1958 when they didn’t qualify.