Eight months after winning the European Championship and being feted as national heroes, Italy’s football team crashed back to earth, missing out on the World Cup for the second time running.
Italy lost 1-0 at home to little-fancied North Macedonia who scored the winner in injury time on Thursday.
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It was a shock repeat of four years ago, when Italy failed to reach football’s global showpiece tournament for the first time since 1958.
But after the team’s victory in the European final against England last July, few people believed a repeat calamity was looming.
“Out of the world” was La Gazzetta dello Sport’s, the major sports newspaper in Italy, headline on Friday morning.
“Taking Roberto Mancini [team manager] to trial is a mistake. It’s the entire football system that needs to be rebuilt,” said an opinion piece in the newspaper.
Media reports suggest Mancini, who was hailed as Italy’s saviour after taking the side from World Cup omission to Euros glory, will probably leave.
“Let’s see,” said Mancini. “The disappointment is too big at present to talk about the future. I just don’t know what to say.”
Most of the big-name players, including the 2006 World Cup winners, remained silent and it was hard to find posts or comments on social media from the current players.
Corriere dello Sport and Tuttosport respectively had “To Hell” and “Noooooooooo” as headlines, with numerous articles of why the team lost the match and how the team’s performance got worse after the final in London last summer.
Italy have won the World Cup four times, including the 2006 triumph. However, they exited at the group stage in 2010 and 2014, and this latest setback suggested that the European triumph in 2021 was merely a blip in a prolonged period of decline.
“All the Gazzetta dello Sport were almost sold out early in the morning,” Christian, 50, owner of a newspaper kiosk in south-central Milan, told Al Jazeera.
“Those who bought the newspapers were angry and sad. But this time it was different from 2018 mainly for two reasons. Firstly, people are concerned about the war in Ukraine and football, even here in Italy, is not a priority these days. Secondly, we have gotten used to not making it to the World Cup.”
Last Italy’s World Cup game was June 15, 2014. Group stage vs England. 2839 days ago.
Last Italy’s World Cup knockout game was July 9, 2006. Final vs France (!). 5737 days ago.
Next one: 2026? 🇮🇹 #Italy
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) March 24, 2022
For the last two seasons, no Italian teams have reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, a trophy which has eluded Italy since 2010, with many domestic clubs weighed down by debt and unable to attract the top talent that once flocked to Serie A.
The newly appointed head of the top-flight Serie A league acknowledged that a shake-up was needed.
“This failure… must lead everyone to serious reflection and profound change in our system,” said Lorenzo Casini, without giving details of what needed doing.
For 64-year-old Nunzio, it was the same feeling as the rest of Italy.
“This is what they deserve because they played really bad yesterday,” he told Al Jazeera. “Of course I am disappointed, I love football and I always support Azzurri but after Euro 2020, we did not do anything to deserve qualification. Macedonia was much better than us yesterday, I am happy for them.”
Italy since winning the World Cup in 2006:
2010: Knocked out at group stage
2014: Knocked out at group stage
2018: Failed to qualify
2022: Failed to qualify
— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 25, 2022