The support of 70,000 fans at the Stadio Meazza wasn’t enough as Italy dominated for 95 minutes but weren’t able to break down the Swedish defence as they qualified for the World Cup. The return leg of the play-off ended 0-0 after the unfortunate defeat in Solna. There’s a great sense of regret after the amount of control exerted in the game but without being able to convert from the many chances created. After 60 years, Italy haven’t qualified for a World Cup and the tears from the Azzurri players at the end of the match showed the disappointment for all of Italian football. Gigi Buffon was also in tears as he said goodbye to the Italy shirt after 175 appearances, the sixth World Cup will remain a dream for him and the whole country.
At a Stadio Meazza coloured by the Italian flag, the Coach went for a 3-5-2 but with different figures compared to Friday’s match. Florenzi and Jorginho were in midfield for De Rossi and the suspended Verratti with the later making his debut of the Ventura era. The front two changed with Gabbiadini partnering Immobile. Sweden stuck with a 4-4-2 as Lustig returned at full-back with Johansson starting in the middle before he had to go off for Svensson after just 20 minutes.
The story didn’t change. Italy looked to play on the ground while Sweden committed everything to defence and long balls to the front two of Berg and Toivonen while Forsberg had the chance to find space behind their shoulders. In the 6th minute, the referee Lahoz didn’t award a penalty for contact on Parolo in the area from Augustinsson amid protests on the pitch and on the bench. Chiellini and Johansson were booked and there was a possible handball in the area from Darmian. Italy continued to control the match. Jorginho played in Immobile who hit the side netting. At the other end, Buffon saved a low but weak Claesson strike. The Azzurri looked to build play from the flanks and in the 27th minute, the inspired Jorginho played in Immobile who fired in a low cross before Candreva fired over. The 70,000 at the Stadio Meazza pushed Italy on. Three chances followed. Jorginho set up Immobile again and he beat Olsen but the goalbound effort was cleared, Parolo then narrowly failed to connect with the ball after some good Immobile and Florenzi interplay and Jorginho then forced Olsen to save with his feet after nutmegging Lustig.
Luck once again was not with the Azzurri, who kept pushing in the second half, looking for the goal that would even the tie up. Italy protested for a penalty after Darmian was brought down by an opponent’s knee, but Lahoz had stopped the game before for a handball from the Manchester United defender. The action saw the Azzurri as the only side involved in attack and Florenzi went close to scoring with a spectacular acrobatic volley. Belotti and El Shaarawy then came in for Gabbiadini and Darmian for the final push in the last 30 minutes. Immobile had another chance but his shot went wide. Then, a cross from Florenzi deflected off a Swedish defender and rattled the crossbar. There was only one team on the pitch, a team playing with heart and determination, as requested by Ventura ahead of the game. Nevertheless, it was not enough. Belotti ran back 50 metres to win the ball from an opponent, another sign that the Azzurri still believed in the possibility of overturning it. Ventura then sent Bernardeschi on, with all the Azzurri attacking in the opposition’s half of the pitch but the ball seemed destined not to find the net. The very last chance was a volley from El Shaarawy that was saved well by Olsen. The final chance brought with it the bitter final outcome. Sweden have qualified for the World Cup in Russia, Italy are staying at home with countless regrets.