“The truth is nobody has cried,” said Marcello Mencarelli, an Italian football fan, after the national side crashed out of qualification for the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.

“In fact, most people are happy they’ll be staying at home,” he insisted. “For two years, they’ve been playing badly, so they don’t deserve to go to the World Cup.”

But he admitted he might have had a little lump in his throat as he exchanged text messages with a friend as Sweden held Italy to a 0-0 draw at the San Siro stadium in Milan on Monday night, and made it through to the 2018 finals in Russia over the four-time champions – who most recently won in 2006.

Mencarelli was a boy in 1958, the last time Italy missed out on a World Cup. The Azzurri’s four-yearly appearances in the finals have been a regular marker of his adult life. The only other time Italy didn’t participate was in 1930, because the team didn’t enter.


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The morning after the San Siro playoff, which Sweden won 1-0 on aggregate, he was sitting with a group of a similarly retired fans who gather every morning for coffee at Sant’Andrea, a bar in the Umbrian hilltop town of Orvieto, to discuss their favourite topics: football and politics, but on Tuesday just the former – and the impending gap in their calendars.

“I’m mostly unhappy because I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself between 14 June and 15 July next year,” said Mencarelli’s friend Riccardo Giovannella.

Italy’s newspapers have been far less sanguine. “Italy, this is the apocalypse,” was the headline in the country’s leading sports paper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, perhaps an understandable reaction in a nation whose passion for football is such that the same publication concluded that “a love so great must be reserved for other things [than the World Cup]”.

Its editorial read: “We will not be with you and you will not be with us. Italy will not participate at the World Cup. There will be inevitable consequences.” Inevitably that will mean the departure of the widely criticised head coach, Gian Piero Ventura.

The front page of the other major sports daily, Corriere dello Sport, read simply: “Italy out of the World Cup”, stating how painful it will be for the country to be on the sidelines when the finals get under way in Russia next June.

Italy’s supporters react at the end of the World Cup playoff with Sweden.



Italy’s supporters react at the end of the World Cup playoff with Sweden. Photograph: Piero Cruciatti/AFP/Getty Images

“In only a few months’ time we will be watching the World Cup for everyone else: for the first time in 60 years we will be on the outside,” the newspaper commented in an editorial piece. “It is an intolerable football shame, an indelible stain.”

Turin’s La Stampa proclaimed: “Disaster for Italy, we won’t be going to the World Cup.”

For the regulars at Sant’Andrea, that meant there would be no interest in the finals. “Spain is very strong, I would love them to beat Germany,” said Giovannella. “But without Italy, the World Cup is not the same for me. I won’t be watching.”

Antonello Romano, a journalist with TV network ItaliainRete, watched the playoff from the bar on Monday night. As the country prepares for elections that are due to be held before May amid political paralysis, Italians were hoping for an outcome that would lift the national mood.

“This is a most difficult day for Italians, one that will go down in history,” he said. “But it is also a reflection of the situation in the country right now.”



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