- Italy’s failure to reach the World Cup is no surprise
- Antonio Conte overachieved with a poor squad
- Italy is no longer producing great players in notable quantities
The unthinkable has happened. Italy has failed to qualify for the World Cup. Let’s face it, after the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, I think we can cope with the mildly surprising demise of the once-mighty Azzurri. And no, the World Cup will not be a poorer place for their absence.
This has been coming for a while. Italy has barely registered in major tournaments since they last won the World Cup in Berlin in 2006. Two years later, they were demolished by, irony of ironies, their partners in hubris, Holland. In 2010, the Italians were ejected from the South African party by the footballing superpower that is Slovakia. Sure, they made the Euro 2012 final, surprisingly defeating a tepid Germany on the way, but once there they caved in to the tune of 4-0 against a rampant Spain approaching the apogee of its glory.
As for the last World Cup in Brazil, the less said the better, though they did beat the magnificently inept English before embarrassing themselves against Costa Rica. Then, Luis Suarez took a bite out of them in the final group game and that was that.
Euro 2016 saw Antonio Conte make the best of a bad lot and give the haunted Germans a fright, but he was fighting the odds. Wins over flawed sides like Belgium and Spain in France spoke of a coach getting the very best out of a mediocre bunch. There was no Paolo Rossi or Marco Tardelli in this squad. No Antonio Cabrini or Paolo Maldini. No Roberto Baggio or Luigi Riva. No Franco Baresi or Gianni Rivera. Great Italian footballers trip off the tongue. Very few countries produce great footballers in the numbers Italy traditionally has. But right now, Italy is producing a trickle when a torrent was typical.
Yes, we will miss the great Italian – and Dutch – players and sides of the past, but then we’ve always missed great players and teams when they’ve passed. But we’ll not miss the second rate rabble these countries now put out. The World Cup will limp on in the absence of Ciro Immobile.