Arrivederci, Italy.

Italian hearts broke after Sweden held the Azzurri to a 0-0 draw in the second leg of their World Cup qualifying tie on Tuesday morning.

A 1-0 defeat in the first match in Sweden meant Italy headed to the San Siro needing goals but they were impossible to come by. Despite boasting 75 per cent of the possession and taking 23 shots to four, the home side was left to rue what might have been.

The men in blue will watch next year's World Cup in Russia from home after failing to qualify for football's showpiece tournament for the first time since 1958.


Here's how everyone reacted to the shock result.


European qualifying is undoubtedly the toughest route to take if you want to be one of the 32 countries to participate in a World Cup.

The continent is allocated 14 spots every four years - 13 this time around because as the host, Russia qualified automatically - and it's always a dogfight to claim a position.

Quality teams miss out in every cycle and it's no different approaching 2018. Along with Italy, the Netherlands will also be absent in Russia after Sweden finished with a superior goal difference in Group A to pip the Dutch for second spot.

It's incredible to think neither the Netherlands (World No. 20) - who lost the World Cup final to Spain in 2010 - nor Italy (No. 15) who won the tournament in 2006 will be playing for the trophy in 2018. But such is the ruthless nature of European qualifying, a point made by Bloomberg's Derek Wallbank.

The five European countries he mentions are all ranked in the top 25 in the world, but reputation counts for nothing.

There were nine groups of six teams in Europe. The team that finished top of each group automatically advanced to the World Cup, while the team that finished second in eight of the nine groups went through to a playoff. Slovakia was second behind England in Group F but because it had the least points of any second-placed team, its campaign ended.

Italy finished five points adrift of Spain in Group G while Sweden was four points behind France in Group A, pitting the two against each other.

Meanwhile, at least one team ranked below Italy will progress to Russia. Switzerland (No. 11) overcame Northern Ireland (No. 23), Denmark (No. 19) has its second leg to play against the Republic of Ireland (No. 26) and Croatia (No. 18) was too strong for Greece (No. 47) over two legs.

On the other hand you have a team like Australia (No. 43) - who couldn't qualify automatically via the weaker Asian confederation - playing Honduras (No. 69) in a playoff for a World Cup spot, while New Zealand (No. 122) is taking on Peru (No. 10) for the same right.

It may seem unfair that lower ranked teams playing in easier confederations have multiple bites at the cherry, but that's the unpredictable beauty of a World Cup.

The USA (No. 27) was another participant to miss out on qualifying for Russia after choking spectacularly to lose 2-1 against Trinidad and Tobago last month, as a series of other results conspired against the Americans to cruel their chances.


In a truth sure to provide ammunition to football critics everywhere ("How can you play 90 minutes and end with a score of 0-0?"), Italy's loss highlights a trend that has infiltrated World Cup qualifying of late.

The past six qualifiers - not just in Europe but around the world - have all ended in scoreless draws. Three of the four draws between European teams occurred in the second legs of ties, while Australia's draw with Honduras and New Zealand's stalemate against Peru were both first-leg results.

Teams taking a lead into a second tie are often happy to defend and protect their advantage - as Sweden did this morning - while in first legs visiting teams are often content to settle for a draw.

But it's going to be one helluva boring World Cup if 0-0 draws become the norm in Russia.


For all the sadness engulfing Italy, it was party time in Sweden.

Objective viewers will acknowledge Italy outplayed the Swedes, but that doesn't change the result. Coach Jan Andersson admitted it was all about defence in the dying stages against a team stacked with superior talent.

"We had no weapons left. We just had to sit there and hope that we could hang on," Andersson said.

"We couldn't do it in any other way, they are so skilful."


Gianluigi Buffon had the perfect farewell planned: Concluding his glorious international career exactly where it started, in Russia.

In a bonus sixth World Cup.

It wasn't mean to be, though.

Two decades after making his Italian debut on a snowy field in Moscow in a World Cup playoff, Buffon was in the jersey in Milan on Tuesday in another playoff. But the Italians drew the game with Sweden and lost the playoff 1-0. Buffon, the captain, wore the hurt on his face.

"It is upsetting that my last match decided we didn't qualify for the World Cup," he said, wiping away tears.

In his record 175th appearance for Italy, Buffon was hardly tested and even ventured forward in a desperate attempt to score on two corners late in the match.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Not for me, though, but for (Italy)," Buffon said. "I'm sorry that we failed at something that could have also been important on a social level. That's the only regret I have.

"We didn't leave anything out on the pitch."

If Italy had qualified, Buffon, who will turn 40 in January, would have become the first player to travel to six World Cups.

Fortunately for Italy, another Gianluigi is ready to replace Buffon. At 18, Gianluigi Donnarumma has a similar stature to Buffon and is already in his third season as the starter at AC Milan.

"A lot of these kids are talented, including Donnarumma and (reserve goalkeeper Mattia) Perin," Buffon told RAI state TV. "I wish these kids a lot of luck.

"There's definitely a future, because we have pride and strength.

"We're stubborn and hard-headed. After ugly falls we find a way to rise back up."