'Indelible stain' - Crisis talks set after stunned Italy miss out on World CupSports | Nov 15, 2017
Distraught fans of the one-time top dogs of the global game reacted with shock and disbelief.
The Italian press called it an "apocalypse" for the team, who last failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup and have played every other edition apart from the inaugural tournament in 1930.
Tearful captain Gianluigi Buffon quit international football and coach Gian Piero Ventura said he would consider his future after the Azzurri drew 0-0 with Sweden at Milan's San Siro to lose 1-0 on aggregate over two legs.
The Italian football federation called crisis talks with 69-year-old Ventura expected to be sacked.
"We are deeply affected and disappointed," said federation president Carlo Tavecchio. "It's a sporting failure that requires shared solutions by everyone."
For many the defeat reflected a profound malaise in Italian football with the 2006 World Cup triumph having been followed by group stage exits from the last two World Cups.
"It's the biggest Italian sports catastrophe of the last 60 years, which cannot be blamed on the coach," former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni said, suggesting a total clearout of the hierarchy. "The results are missing at the national level, clubs, from grassroots level basically. There is a problem in Italian football, that concerns the management, down the ranks."
For Buffon it was a national catastrophe more than a personal disappointment. "I'm not sorry for myself but all of Italian football, because we failed at something which also means something on a social level," he said.
Fans were struggling to come to terms with the prospect of a World Cup without their team.
"It is really very sad because watching the World Cup was something that really brought us together as Italians," said recent graduate Stefania Pusateri. Another fan said the failure is "completely unthinkable," adding that "for Italy, getting to the World Cup finals is almost a duty."
The failure led to damning headlines in the Italian press.
"Italy, this is the apocalypse," ran a headline on the website of sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Wasted chances, a bit of bad luck but zero goals in 180 minutes against the Swedes, who will go to Russia," Gazzetta commented.
Corriere dello Sport said it will be painful for the country to be on the sidelines when the World Cup kicks off in Russia in June. "It is an intolerable football shame, an indelible stain," the newspaper said.