Italy will be absent from the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years after a long night of frustration ended in an ocean of tears in Milan.
Trailing 1-0 from last Friday’s first leg in Stockholm, they were unable to break down a resolute Sweden who held out magnificently to earn themselves a place in the World Cup draw on Dec 1.
There were emotional scenes at the end as the Swedes celebrated one of their greatest achievements in modern times. In stark contrast, the Italian players looked inconsolable, none more so than veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who will retire this summer without the crowning moment of a World Cup swansong.
Buffon said: “I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football. We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There’s regret at finishing like that.”
The tension in the San Siro was palpable as the Italians began their pursuit of the crucial goal that could open the way to Russia. Their home record is formidable – the Azzurri had not lost a competitive match on home soil since 1999 – but the Italians knew that only a win would suffice. Their cause appeared to be given a helping hand when the Swedes suffered a huge slice of misfortune with the game only 17 minutes old.