MILAN, Nov 13: Four-time champions Italy face missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958, a potential national humiliation likened to the “apocalypse” by the team’s fanatical supporters.
Italy players during a training session ahead of their FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier play-off second leg against Sweden.
Italy need to overturn a 1-0 play-off first-leg defeat against Sweden at the San Siro on Monday.
National coach Gian Piero Ventura insists his team will not falter but the 69-year-old gave his critics more ammunition in the build-up to the game by claiming he was “amazed people are surprised we’re in the play-offs”.
“We knew from the moment we picked Spain in the group phase that we’d be heading for the play-offs. Nobody can be surprised we reached this point.
“I realise this is the way it works in Italy, but I didn’t expect all this,” he added of the reaction generated by the humiliation of an impending exit.
“We started out with people talking about the apocalypse.”
Italy were second to Spain in the group phase and never recovered from their confidence-denting 3-0 defeat early in September at Madrid.
Ventura has come under fire for stubbornly sticking to a failing tactical system and overlooking talented Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne, 26. – AFP