Before I get lambasted for my choice of an overly dramatic title to this article, let me state that in my defence I was only mimicking the overly dramatic diving Italian players have been accused of for ages. I could have went with the more literal, there’s Something Rotten in the State of Italian Football, but I wasn’t certain that the younger generation will know who Shakespeare was, let alone that the line was stolen from one of his lesser known plays, Hamlet. One thing that is for certain though is that I am in a foul mood. It isn’t just because Italy failed to qualify that has me insulting my audience and resorting to bad puns (as you know I commonly resort to bad puns anyways) but it is how ineffectively they played over their last half dozen games and nothing was done to change it that has me so upset.
You have read it all here before. I have questioned Coach Ventura’s decisions many times during that time frame and saying, “I told you so” doesn’t make me feel any better at all. I sincerely wish I was the one that was wrong. In most circumstances, regardless of the sport, coaches tend to get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses. Afterall, it isn’t the coach who fires a shot 15 yards over the crossbar, nor are they the ones that continually make such horrible passes. But Ventura can not be washing his hands from the responsibility of this fiasco because either his stubbornness or his arrogance had a huge part in this colossal failure.
It was not as if all of a sudden Italy played poorly in just these two games against Sweden. Their drop in form started much further back. As I mentioned in previous articles, Italy scored only 3 goals in 5 matches and three of those teams were ranked 71st, 82nd and 85th in the world. That is nowhere near good enough anymore and everyone was hearing the alarm bells. Well, everyone that is except the Italian coach. He kept the same 3-5-2 formation, which wasn’t working. He kept mostly the same players, which also wasn’t working. Yet again in that final game (and I still don’t know if it was out of stubbornness or arrogance) he kept as close as he could to those same players and lineups. Sure he finally started Jorginho but that was only because Marco Verratti had been suspended for too many yellows. Now Lorenzo Insigne may not be the best forward on the planet, but he is one of, if not the best forward Italy has. Not only did he not make it to the starting lineup, he didn’t even make it onto the field as Ventura sat him out the whole game. Even the British announcers were stating Insigne should have been to start the second half at the absolute latest.
Italy said goodbye to some legends after they failed to reach the World Cup 💔 pic.twitter.com/iulx2rsG4j
— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 15, 2017
So it wasn’t just me that was questioning this coach’s decisions. In as important a do-or-die match this was, it must have been incredibly disheartening for the players to hear the home crowd boo their coach a hell of a lot louder than they did the opposition when they announced the lineups. The players did give it their best effort and despite having control of the ball and a few very good scoring chances, most of their play ended with very poor passing or not even close to hitting the net when shooting. Every Italian was feeling the frustration and the pressure. There was also plenty of anger as many still believe Italy would have easily advanced if they played their best 11. This is not to take anything away from a Swedish side that did exactly what they needed to do to advance. They deserved the victory and congratulations to them with best wishes for a solid performance in the World Cup.
A couple of days have now past since the match and the good news is that the anger has subsided. It may come back again in a few months during the World Cup itself, who knows, but at least the anger for now hasn’t lingered. Unfortunately, that feeling of anger has been replaced by one of sadness. Had Italy won, Gigi Buffon would have been the first and only player to play in 6 World Cup Tournaments. It would have been another incredible achievement in an already illustrious career. The backbone of Italian soccer for decades deserved a much better fate than to be associated with the first Italian team since 1958 to not make it.
Truth be told, there is a greater sense of shame for Buffon not being in the 2018 World Cup than there is for Italy. The reason for that is quite simple. One belongs there, the other does not.
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