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World Cup 2018: Where did it all go wrong for Italy?

From BBC - November 14, 2017

When Carlo Tavecchio, the president of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), announced the appointment of Giampiero Ventura as Antonio Conte's successor he promised they would make history together.

A little over a year later, they have done just that but for all the wrong reasons. For the first time since 1958, four-time champions Italy will not appear at the World Cup.

Tavecchio himself said failing to qualify would be like the Apocalypse. Well, it's Apocalypse Now even if Italy's elimination in the play-offs to Sweden does not compare with losing to North Korea in 1966.

The past four days feature among the darkest ever experienced by the Azzurri. Up there with Giorgio Chinaglia swearing down the camera as Italy were knocked out of the World Cup in 1974, and other group stage eliminations at the hands of New Zealand in 2010 and Costa Rica four years ago.

Where did it all go wrong?

Together with Gianluigi Buffon's tears, the image that will live longest in the memory from Monday night is one of Ventura's assistants going over todefensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi to ask him to warm up.

"Why the hell should I go on?" he responded. "We do not need a draw here. We need to win." De Rossi looked down the bench and gestured in forward Lorenzo Insigne's direction, as if to say he was the one who should be coming on.

Insigne is Italy's most skilful and imaginative player. He has inspired Napoli to the top of Serie A. But Ventura disregarded the 26-year-old when Italy needed him most. It was the most telling show of frustration with the manager.

Senior players already held an emergency meeting after the draw with Macedonia in Turin last month. Reports emerged of another on the team's return from the first leg of the play-off in Stockholm when the manager was implored to change system and selection. It's alleged Ventura threatened to resign before being talked out of it.

His tactics were again unsatisfactory on Monday. Playing 3-5-2 meant there was no place for Insigne and it was clear soon after kick off that deploying three centre-backs was unnecessary against a team camped inside their own penalty area. More variation was needed. Italy crossed and crossed and crossed, which was fine by the Swedes. Their towering defenders headed everything away.

Greater than the sum of their parts under Conte, the same group of players has been so much less under the uninspiring Ventura. Players in excellent form for their clubs looked shadows of themselves for their country. Out of his depth, Ventura has cut an increasingly confused figure since the 3-0 defeat by Spain in Madrid.

It's enough to think Italy used three different systems in their past four games. Players who had never previously been considered like Simone Verdi, Jorginho, and Manolo Gabbiadini were thrown in at the deep end. Only Jorginho swam which made his exclusion over the past year all the more mind-boggling.

Counting the cost

It's estimated the national team will miss out on 100m euros in potential revenue by failing to qualify for the World Cup. Bonuses from sponsors, TV and prize money will go untapped. The FIGC's bargaining position with Puma and other sponsors will be weakened when they next sit round the negotiating table.

The television rights for the World Cup have lost half their value in Italy. The number of consumers buying TVs - up 4% during Euro 2016 - will remain where it was either side of that competition.

The boost World Cup participation would have had on the economy wo not be felt. As La Repubblica notes, GDP increased by 1% when Italy last won the competition in 2006, which seems a negligible figure but amounts to around 16bn euros.

What next?

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