Italians to miss out on the World Cup finals for the first time in almost 60 years
Stunned Italians awoke yesterday to the realisation they will miss out on the World Cup finals for the first time in almost 60 years.
Distraught fans of the one-time top dogs of the global game reacted with disbelief.
The Italian press called it an "apocalypse" for the team, who last failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup.
Tearful captain Gianluigi Buffon quit international football and coach Gian Piero Ventura said he would consider his future after the Azzurri drew 0-0 with Sweden on Monday to lose 1-0 on aggregate.
The Italian football federation called crisis talks for today with Ventura, 69, expected to be sacked.
"We are deeply affected and disappointed," said federation president Carlo Tavecchio.
"It's a sporting failure that requires shared solutions by everyone."
For many the defeat reflected a profound malaise in Italian football with the 2006 World Cup triumph having been followed by group stage exits from the last two World Cups.
"It's the biggest Italian sports catastrophe of the past 60 years, which cannot be blamed on the coach," former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni told Rai Radio 1, suggesting a total clear out of the hierarchy.
For Buffon it was a national catastrophe more than a personal disappointment.
"I'm sorry for all of Italian football, because we failed," he said.
The 39-year-old goalkeeper, who has 175 international caps and was an integral part of the 2006 World Cup victory in Germany, had been hoping to compete in a record sixth World Cup.
"It is really very sad because watching the World Cup was something that really brought us together as Italians," said graduate Stefania Pusateri, heading for the exit after watching the match in a Rome bar.
"The shock will be even worse for my father. He is 54 and he has never had to go through something like this."