Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in decades. The nightmare against Sweden was no fluke, but rather the result of a lack of ideas at every level, writes DW's David Vorholt.
On the surface, there is a clear culprit behind Italy's footballing nightmare, which saw the national team eliminated by Sweden in their World Cup qualifying playoff: Gian Peiro Ventura. As the head coach, the 69-year-old is responsible for his team's performance and results.
However, his team didn't even play all that bad. In their 180 minutes of football against Sweden, the Italians played with passion, commitment and heart. It was only the result that shocked the nation, and that's Ventura's responsibility. He probably won't be allowed to carry on as national team coach.
Victimized by the catenaccio
Faced with Sweden's ultra-defensive setup, the Italians proved incapable of scoring a single goal. It's ironic that the four-time World Cup winners would be eliminated by an opponent playing a form of the catenaccio, a defensive tactic cultivated by the Italians for decades, which so often allowed them to win games by scoring just a single goal.
For decades, the Squadra Azzura had fielded teams capable of turning up the offensive pressure and forcing in a goal whenever needed. Against Sweden, though, Ventura's team proved solely capable of mindless, sometimes furious attacks — hectic desperation as opposed to unhurried superiority.
What was missing was the peace of mind and brilliance of an Andrea Pirlo, who could always surprise his opponents from a set play; or the creativity and goal production from the midfield provided by a Francesco Totti; or the clinical finishing of a Luca Toni — just to name a few.
The last in a series of mysteries is why in the second leg, when Italy desperately needed a goal, Ventura chose to leave in-form Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne on the bench. In the end, a team of good footballers played with passion against an underdog and failed — although none of them actually played poorly. So how could this happen?
It will all work out somehow
Italy were left in a difficult position after head coach Antonio Conte, having failed to take them past the quarterfinals at Euro 2016, left the national team to join Chelsea. The Italian FA was forced to replace a coach they would have liked to have held on to.
The solution that the Italian FA came up with was a clear demonstration of their helplessness and lack of ideas. The renewal that was so sorely needed in both in the team and the training staff following Euro 2016 never materialized.
Now Italy have paid the price. They had probably hoped that any old coach could lead a team that included players like Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli to Russia. Somehow, things would all work out in the end. Following the nightmare in Milan, it's time for a rethink — about everything.
Ventura failed to further develop any of these players, and failed to instill the sort of brilliance in the build-up, which was so sorely missing against Sweden. And what's more, those who hired Ventura in the first place had to know that what they were getting in him was anything but an innovator.
The coming days, weeks and months will be painful for all involved with Italian football. Coming to terms with failing to qualify for the World Cup will take some time. The good news for Italian football is that — apart from the inconsolable Gianluigi Buffon — Chiellini, Barzagli and Daniele de Rossi have all retired from the national team. True, these are all great players and their contributions to the national team deserve respect. But so do their decisions to step down and pave the way for a true renewal of the national team.
For this is now imperative — and the next squad to represent Italy, needs to include as few as possible of the big names who were part of that nightmare against Sweden.