Apocalypse! Cup without Italy, after 60 years

Milan: For the first time in 60 years, four-time champions Italy will not be playing in the World Cup finals.

The Azzurri failed to qualify for Russia 2018, a goal-less draw with unfancied Sweden here on Monday failing to overturn a 0-1 first-leg deficit, plunging a country that sees a World Cup spot as a birthright into depression.

"Italy, this is the apocalypse," said sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. Other front pages splashed headlines like "Disaster", "Nightmare" and "Humiliation".

"The World Cup can't exist without Italy; it just can't exist," lamented a fan, Francesco Macella.

As the match progressed and Italian tensions rose, veteran midfielder Daniele De Rossi was incensed by coach Gian Piero Ventura's decision to make him warm up instead of the attack-minded Lorenzo Insigne.

"Why the f*** should I warm up? We need to win, not draw!" the fearsomely bearded De Rossi screamed, pointing to Insigne.

A tearful Gianluigi Buffon, the 39-year-old Italy captain and arguably the greatest goalkeeper in history, called time on his 20-year international career. "Time goes by and it's cruel," he said.

Grasping for silver linings, La Stampa acknowledged the team was weak. "The only consolation is that we would have made utter fools of ourselves at the finals," it said.


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