A World Cup without Italy for the first time in 60 years.
The four-time world champions will be watching from home next summer after the most humiliating night in their glorious history.
The Swedes have returned to haunt Italy. This time they hit the Italians where it really hurts: stealing their pride, strangling their dreams and producing a World Cup finals without the Azzurri for the first time since 1958.
The Azzurri, led by the hapless Gian Piero Ventura, couldn’t muster a goal over 180 minutes of football, meaning Jakob Johansson’s first-leg winner was enough to send the Swedes to Russia.
Ventura had the unenviable task of replacing Antonio Conte as Italian coach, and the unenviable challenge of getting past Spain in an unforgiving qualifying group. But questionable team selection and curious tactics saw Italy miss out on a top spot and consigned to a play-off spot, where they were bested by the Scandinavians.
For what remains of Italy’s 2006 World Cup winners, this was a shameful and distressing way to exit international football. Gianluigi Buffon, who roared with passion, tears in his eyes before kick-off was crying again at full-time for altogether more unhappy reasons. Daniele De Rossi, one of the key under-performers in this agonising two-legged defeat, can also be expected to retire from international football with this.
‘I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football,’ said 39-year-old Buffon, beaten by a deflected Jakob Johansson strike in the first-leg in Stockholm on Friday which proved the only goal of a two-legged tie.
‘We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There is regret at finishing like that. ‘Blame is shared equally between everyone. There cannot be scapegoats. Win together, lose together. ‘We have pride, strength and we are stubborn. We know how to get back up again as we’ve always done.
‘I am leaving an Italy side that will know how to speak for itself. Hugs to everyone, especially those I’ve shared this wonderful journey with.’
Buffon, a world champion in 2006, knows football defines Italy and can unite the country when the Azzurri are successful. Four times they have won the World Cup and twice they have been beaten in the final.
As for Sweden, the party will be huge come June 2018. Zlatan Ibrahimovic must be tempted to re-join the party now that they are there. Whatever the case Sweden are destined for good times and another world cup finals appearance if not winning.
The only thing certain about Italy right now is that this hurts, that this will take some time to get over and that, for better or worse, tonight was a pivotal night in modern Italian football. The days when they boasted superstars like Andrea Pirlo, Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Del Piero are long gone. Things ought to change all through.