The Apocalypse: How Italy feels after exiting the World Cup

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Sky News Reporter Alessandra Rizzo sums up the national mood after her country fails to qualify for the first time in 60 years.

Papers on 14 November after out of world cup

In Italy, football is not just a national sport, it is an obsession above all others.

Here, Italian Sky News Reporter Alessandra Rizzo reflects on something no one in her country thought possible – her team failing to reach the World Cup finals.

The Apocalypse.

These end of times came not with the Four Horsemen, but with a ref’s whistle.

For the first time in 60 years, Italy will not go to the World Cup.

A day after, the football-frenzied nation responded with a combination of shock and fury.

“The End” was the banner front-page headline in Italy’s most popular sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“National Shame”, “The Apocalypse”, shouted others.

Alessandro Florenzi of Italy reacts after losing at the end of the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier play-off against Sweden at the San Siro
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Italy’s Alessandro Florenzi has his head in his hands after Italy lost its play-off to Sweden

Daily Libero said “Death in San Siro”, referring to the stadium where the Azzurri were held to a scoreless draw against Sweden, losing on aggregate.

On social media, some Italians jokingly called for a boycott of Ikea, others expressed sheer disbelief.

Politicians weighed in too, as is inevitable in a country that had a football club owner for prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and voted for a party named after a football chant, Forza Italia.

“It is a huge slap in the face,” said the former premier Matteo Renzi. An anti-immigrant politician blamed foreigners: too many of them in Italian clubs, he said.

For Italians, football is much more than a game: it is a source of pride, of endless debate and conspiracy theories, almost a religion.

Many nod in agreement at Bill Shankly’s famous statement: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

Italian supporters show their despair as their team fail to qualify
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Italian supporters show their despair as their team fail to qualify

To many Italians, calcio (football) is a metaphor for the country itself, and has the ability to affect the national mood like little else.

It even affects the economy. When Italy, against the odds, won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, GDP grew by 1%, or €16bn (£14.3bn), according to farming group Coldiretti.

This year, failure to make the tournament’s final stage will cost something like €150m (£134m), according to some estimates, between TV rights, sponsorships and merchandise.

The failure of the team is seen as the failure of the country.

To some, it was a sign of the times: a mediocre team for a mediocre society, where meritocracy doesn’t exist, excellence is trumped by corruption, a risk-averse culture stifles progress, and a self-perpetuating political class is unable to reform.

“This is another blow, and not just in sports,” Andrea Di Caro, the deputy editor-in-chief at Gazzetta, told me. “Football reflects how the whole country is, it represents Italy’s inability to look to the future, to employ young well-prepared people.”

Buffon cries as tries to go off the pitch after losing world cup place
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Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon cried as he left the pitch for the final time for Italy

Perhaps nobody embodied the national mood better than Gianluigi Buffon, the veteran goalkeeper who had been hoping to participate in a record fourth World Cup, and instead bade farewell to football in tears.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Not sorry for me, though, but for Italy,” he said.

“I’m sorry that we failed at something that could have also been important on a social level.”

Part of the national mythology is the Italians’ ability to pull off a result at the last minute, when nobody expects it, when nobody sees it coming.

The last two times Italy won the World Cup, in 1982 and 2006, it had been reeling from scandals – betting in 1982, match-fixing in 2006.

Can Italy pick itself up again after the Apocalypse?

Alessandro Florenzi of Italy reacts after losing at the end of the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier play-off against Sweden at the San Siro

Italian supporters show their despair as their team fail to qualify

Buffon cries as tries to go off the pitch after losing world cup place

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