The Azzurri, Italy’s beloved national football team — darlings of the international football (soccer) scene — failed to make it to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this year. Images of bleeding-heart fans crying into their minestrone over this reality aren’t far off.
It’s a jagged pill for a calcio-crazed nation to swallow, especially considering that the team had fallen short in their bid to advance to the Cup held in Russia four years ago.
Prior to Italy’s loss this year, coupled with the surprising setback in 2018, the Italian national team hadn’t missed a World Cup since 1958.
One of the most successful soccer teams of all time, Italy won the World Cup championship fourfold — second only to Brazil in terms of titles. Italy’s last victory was against France in 2006. Azzurri also claimed the European title back in 2020 with a thrilling penalty shootout with England — an event that injected much-needed joy into streets and spirits after strict lockdowns and Covid-related challenges.
How it started
Italy came out of the gates in the FIFA qualifying group round with three consecutive wins against Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania. After taking a break to compete in the European Championships, they returned to collect two draws in a row against Bulgaria and Switzerland, only to surpass Lithuania 5-0. With two games left and perhaps feeling the pressure, Italy had a draw (1-1) with Switzerland, which put them on equal points with the field as they entered the final round.
How it ended
Italy’s draw 0-0 with Northern Ireland gave Switzerland the edge after their win over Bulgaria, putting the “Blue” in the precarious second position going into the playoffs. A stunning 1-0 loss against North Macedonia and Portugal’s 2-0 win over North Macedonia was the final nail in the coffin. Portugal was in and Italy was out.
What's next for the Azzurri
All is not lost.
Italy finished third in the 2020-21 Nations League, bested only by Spain in the semi-finals before defeating Belgium to take home the bronze. On top of that, they’ve already qualified for the final four of the 2022-23 UEFA Nations League, atop a group of four with Hungary, Germany and England. It’s with England in March that they have a chance to defend their European title — a repeat of last year’s nail-biting final at Wembley.
"I'm proud of my teammates; we are all destroyed and broken, but we have to start again,'' Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini told ESPN. "At the moment it's difficult to talk about it. It will remain a great hole.”
Generations of Italians may have shed a tear or two over the Qatar disappointment, but with a recent Euro Cup under their belts and a team and coach willing to rebuild, hopes are high that the boys in blue can kick their way back to the top of the soccer-verse.