The World Cup without Italy

How the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been a great tournament for Italian football fans, even without the mighty Azzurri.

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Matteo Portoghese 

How the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been a great tournament for Italian football fans, even without the mighty Azzurri.

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Italy won the World Cup as recent as 2006 ©FourFourTwo

Although they did not enter the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930, Italy quickly became one of the most successful national teams in the history of the competition, having won their home tournament in 1934 in their very first appearance and repeating themselves 4 years later in Paris, where they retained the championship by beating Hungary 4–2 in the final at the Stade Olympique de Colombes. Between this exploit and the 1982 triumph in Spain, the mighty Azzurri made a reputation for themselves winning the 1968 Euros and reaching the Mexico 1970 final. This, together with the 1994 World Cup final loss and the 2006 success in Germany, established the team as one of the international football heavyweights.
That is why is sounded so strange that they did not reach Russia 2018; 60 years before, they had failed to progress to the finals due to Peter Doherty’s Northern Ireland[1] and this was, until now, the only time that Italy participated in the qualification process and did not reach the finals.

It is obvious that the day after losing to Sweden in the second round (play-offs), the team and the whole Italian football had to stand “trial” under the charge of missing the World Cup. Their flop was considered the lowest point in Italian football history and Gian Piero Ventura, after refusing to resign, left his job on 20th November 2017. While other “big guns” like Argentina (1970), England (1974, 1978, 1994), France (1962, 1970, 1974, 1990, 1994) and the rest had failed to reach the finals before, it felt like the end of the days for Italian fans.

But in spite of that, Russia 2018 proved to be one of the most interesting World Cup ever for them, too. First, it was the first time since Germany 2006 that the tournament was entirely shown on free-to-air TV in the country, almost thanks to the Azzurri’s absence. Mediaset, the mass media company founded in 1987 by former Italian prime minister and AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi, broadcast all the games live[2]. Their journalists, commentators and pundits managed to analyse the WC without succumbing to the temptation to mention Italy or Italian based players all the time while covering the games.

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Italy celebrate their first World Cup win in 1934 ©ItalianWiki

Secondly, your favourite team being involved in a World Cup unavoidably captivate all your interest. No Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini or Daniele De Rossi on the field resulted in journalists and fans actually focused on every game and every team.
Undoubtedly, it is generally claimed that Italian sporting newspaper – with no Italy– dedicated less attention to the WC and chose to pay focus on calciomercato. This is something some would consider narrow-minded or even chauvinistic but – with Carlo Ancelotti (one of only three managers to have won the UEFA Champions League three times) appointed Napoli boss following Maurizio Sarri exit, legendary Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon moving to Paris Saint-Germain and Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid for Juventus – the same would have happened in any other country. Furthermore, sports opinion and analysis websites provided interesting, original and refreshing articles and follow-up pieces[3] on the most remarkable WC ever, with defending champions Germany booted out before the knockout stage for the first time since 1938 and Argentina, Spain and Brazil all knocked out before the Semi-Finals.

To bring it all together, a FIFA World Cup without the 4 times winners Azzurri is still an odd and unusual experience, of course.
But, as Antonio Chiaese told the Guardian, the hope is that “this “apocalypse” will bring a shockwave to the football power system, starting from its elites – the federation and possibly Serie A – to strike a new deal for the next generations of Italian players”[4].
In addition to this, surveys about what went wrong are still in process. We are perhaps at year zero of a new era for Italian football and for the National Team, with former Lazio, Inter and Manchester City Roberto Mancini appointed manager six months after the team failed to qualify, willing to anything to bring Italy back where they belong.
It is in this context that the shock provided by a so strange and unusual World Cup can teach to the fans that no place is guaranteed for no team (ask Netherland) and sometimes it is worthwhile to just watch the games and enjoy the football, even though your team is not there. Broadcasters and sports journalists showed they could survive, after all. Fans can, too.

Matteo Portoghese

[1]           Ross McKee, Euro 2016: Italy and Ireland memories recalled ahead of game in Lille, «BBC News NI», 22nd June 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-36491302.

[2]           Alessio Caprodossi, Russia 2018 sarà il primo mondiale di calcio trasmesso da Mediaset, «Wired», 21st December 2017, https://www.wired.it/economia/finanza/2017/12/21/russia-2018-mediaset.

[3]           Marco D’Ottavi, Dzyuba è il giocatore più antipatico dei Mondiali?, «l’Ultimo uomo», 7th July 2018, https://www.ultimouomo.com/dzyuba-e-il-giocatore-piu-antipatico-dei-mondiali.

[4]           Guardian Readers and Tom Stevens, Where it went wrong for the teams who missed out on the World Cup, «The Guardian», 16th November 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/nov/16/world-cup-2018-fans-holland-italy-ireland.

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