Four-time champion Italy fail to qualify for 2018 World Cup

Alberto Cagliano, DPA on

Published in Soccer

MILAN -- Sweden have held Italy to a 0-0 draw in Milan to qualify for the 2018 soccer World Cup on aggregate, eliminating the four-time world champions in a hard-fought playoff.

The result at the San Siro, in combination with Sweden's 1-0 win in Stockholm on Saturday, means Italy failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

The Azzurri were plagued by their recent lack of precision throughout the game. They managed their first shots on target late in the first half when Andreas Granqvist defended on the goal line after Ciro Immobile fired under the legs of goalkeeper Robin Olsen, who then stopped a shot that Alessandro Florenzi fired from the left.

The hosts' poor finishing continued in the second half, despite bringing on strikers Andrea Belotti and Stephan El Shaarawy on 63 minutes for Matteo Darmian and Manolo Gabbiadini.

Immobile then deflected off target and Belotti saw his first effort roll wide before El Shaarawy forced Olsen's only real save in the 87th.

The defense-geared Swedes complained about a couple of apparent handballs from Azzurri defenders, while the hosts expected penalties after two rude fouls, but ultimately the game ended goalless.

"It is sad that the last game coincided with a defeat of this kind," retiring captain Gianluigi Buffon said after the match. "We did not underestimate anything. If you have played these games you know how difficult it is to play them."


"We lacked the energy and focus to score. It was a play-off decided by small moments, but if moments are in your favor it means that you (Sweden) deserved it."

The 39-year-old goalkeeper, who lifted Italy's fourth World Cup trophy in 2006, would have set a world record of six tournaments had Italy secured a place at next year's finals.

The Swedes successfully defended Jakob Johansson's lone winner from the home leg and are now set to play their 12th World Cup in Russia next year. They last qualified in 2006.

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