A World Cup without Italy?

by - November 13, 2017

Alfredo Foni. Never heard of him? Most haven’t, and yet his is a name that sends a cold shiver down the spine of Italian supporters. He was the manager of the their national side on the only occasion when they failed to qualify for a major tournament, the 1958 World Cup. The Azzurri really are part of the furniture at football’s biggest summer events every other year.

On Monday Italy play the second leg of their play off against Sweden and are currently staring at elimination before even reaching Russia and the 2018 World Cup. Anything but victory at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in the San Siro district within Milan, will bring their campaign to an early finish.

Admittedly though their predicament is not fully unexpected. When the draw for the qualifying groups pitted Italy with Spain, even the most loyal and fervent tifosi would have been hard pushed to believe they would win their group and so qualification through the play offs for finishing second would have been the best they could have hoped for. After all, the current national squad is widely regarded as amongst the weakest that the Italians have amassed and their FIFA ranking of 15th in the world is the second lowest they have ever been.

Unusually their squad is devoid of any true outstanding stars and even their ever reliable defence is aging. Their most notable player is 39 year old goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who is hoping to play in a record sixth World Cup tournament.

With this in mind it shows that Italy’s impressive run during last summer’s European Championships was an even more remarkable achievement for their then manager, Antonio Conte. Inspired team performances, victories over Belgium and Spain, whilst defeat only in a penalty shootout at the hands of Germany had given belief that something significant could be made out of their squad, but while Conte moved on to lead Chelsea to the Premier League title, ex Torino manager Gian Piero Ventura was placed in charge of the Azzurri. It was the same management change as at Bari back in 2011, when Conte left the Galletti to take over at Juventus and he was replaced by Ventura who has similar footballing beliefs and tactical traits as Conte and the transition went smoothly.

However, the Azzurri’s campaign in their qualifying group under Ventura has come under criticism, especially in their defeat away in Spain. Although the 3-0 score line came as a blow, it was also the nature of the performance that angered many fans. An over attack minded line up was easily carved open by the Spaniards and the score could have been much worse.

After losing the away first leg 1-0 in Stockholm on Friday in a very physical tight match, Ventura has promised to send his team out in the second leg to “qualify by playing football”. It will certainly be a very nervous evening for the tifosi but they are used to the rollercoaster ride of following their country. Remember, Italy have won the World Cup 4 times but have not reached the knock out stage of the tournament since winning it in 2006, a run only shadowed by a run of 32 years of not reaching the knockout stages between 1938 and 1970.

World Cup 2006 winning moment
The passion will certainly be there on Monday, for the sake of all who love Italian football, let’s hope the talent will be there.

Written by Jon Ellis, Chelsea FC home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on twitter: @ClitheroeBlue

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