The four-time World Cup winners Italy, will miss the World Cup for the first time since 1958, after having failed to qualify for the 2018 football showdown to be held in Russia.
Italy and Sweden played to a scoreless tie in the second leg match on Monday at San Siro in Milan with Italy losing 1-0 on aggregate.
Despite relentless pressure and countless chances, the Italians failed to overturn the 1-0 deficit from the first leg, plunging the football-mad nation into anger and despair.
Sweden reaches its first World Cup since 2006. It was denied two penalties for apparent handballs, first from Matteo Darmian and then from Andrea Barzagli.
The Italians have only failed to qualify for the tournament once before – missing out on the 1958 finals in Sweden – after not entering the first World Cup in 1930.
The players sank to their knees as the final whistle went, the starkest possible contrast to the Swedish joy, knowing that the match will leave an indelible stain on their careers.
Within an hour of the match ending, Coach Gian Piero Ventura resigned.
Ventura made four changes to the team which lost 1-0 in Stockholm on Friday in the first leg and which was fiercely criticised for its lack of flair in attack.
The ouster from World Cup also marks the end to the career of their 39-year-old goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon who made his Italy debut 20 years ago against Russia.
“It’s upsetting that my last Italy game coincides with our elimination for the World Cup,” said Buffon, a World Cup winner in 2006. “That’s my only regret because time goes by and it is cruel but that’s how it is.”
“Sport teaches you to lose and win as a group and share joy and pain. The coach has the same degree of blame as us.”
Daniele De Rossi, one of the key under-performers in this agonising two-legged defeat, also announced his international retirement at 34 after 117 appearances.
Sweden, which qualified for the first time since 2006, became the 29th team to punch a ticket to Russia. The last three slots will be decided this week: Ireland or Denmark on Tuesday, Australia or Honduras on Wednesday, and Peru or New Zealand on Wednesday.
There is likely to be some long and deep soul-searching once the dust has settled as Italians wonder how it all came to this.
“I absolutely apologise for the result but not for the effort we put in or our desire to win,” said Ventura, whose deadpan style could not be further removed from the high-energy approach of his predecessor Antonio Conte.
His opposite number Jan Andersson admitted his side had to cling on to their first-leg lead.
“We had no weapons left. We just had to sit there and hope that we could hang on,” he said. “We couldn’t do it in any other way, they are so skilful.”
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