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Sweden stand tall amid Italy onslaught to book place at Russia World Cup

Given one last chance to seize a place at next year’s World Cup Italy produced a significantly improved performance but could not manufacture the goals they needed to overturn Sweden’s first-leg advantage and win their qualifying play-off. They pressed, they pushed, but they could not prevail, and as a result will miss out on next year’s tournament in Russia, their first such failure in six decades.

“All or nothing,” had screamed the front page of the Gazzetta dello Sport, which carried a picture of Italy’s beleaguered coach, Gian Piero Ventura, looking to the heavens. Carlo Tavecchio, president of the Italian FA, famously said in September that “not qualifying would be an apocalypse”. At that stage Italy were still optimistic: “I’m still sure we can qualify for the World Cup,” Ventura said, “and we are not thinking about the apocalypse”. It is something the entire country must now confront. Their team massively dominated possession but could find no way past the visitors’ determined rearguard: the four Norse men of the apocalypse.If the build-up was tense and emotional, the atmosphere inside the San Siro was equally febrile. Sweden’s anthem was profoundly disrespected by the majority of those present, who whistled throughout. Gianluigi Buffon applauded wildly, presumably in solo protest against his own supporters’ bile.

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