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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, November 15, 2017
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Italy fails to qualify
in 2018 World Cup

Italy failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 as they were held to a 0-0 draw yesterday in the second leg of their play-off at the San Siro by Sweden, who qualified with a 1-0 aggregate victory.

The four-time champions dominated possession but struggled to create enough clear-cut chances, as Sweden secured a first appearance at the finals since 2006 courtesy of Jakob Johansson's first-leg strike in Stockholm.

Despite the support of 74,000 fans in a white-hot atmosphere at the San Siro the 2006 World Cup winners could not find a way through.

It is the third time that the Italians will not compete at the World Cup, after not going to the first edition in 1930 and not qualifying for the 1958 finals in Sweden.

It marks the end of an era for iconic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who will not be able to compete in his sixth World Cup.

At 39, the 175-times capped Buffon had announced that the finals in Russia would be his last as a player for the national side.

"I'm sorry, sorry, sorry," a tearful Buffon told Rai television as he confirmed he was ending his international career.

"I'm sorry not for me, but for all football, because we failed and even at a social level this could be really important.

"It's the only regret I have. Not stopping, because time passes and it's normal. I regret just that my final match with the national side coincides with an elimination.

"I leave guys who people will talk about in the future from (Mattia) Perin to (Gianluigi) Donnarumma. I embrace all those who have supported me."

Without star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who retired from the national team after Euro 2016, Sweden sealed a return to the tournament after failing to reach the last two editions. The last time the Scandinavians participated was in 2006.

"I'm emotional and very happy," said Sweden coach Janne Andersson. "This match showed our collective strength.

"With Ibrahimovic we played differently. He's retired and he's a great champion. So we adapted and we play in another way now."

It was a mediocre performance by the hosts with Antonio Candreva firing over and Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen denying Alessandro Florenzi and Ciro Immobile.

Mikael Lustig almost scored an own goal when his deflection hit the bar.

Marco Verratti sat out a ban with Simone Zaza and Leonardo Spinazzola both injured, with Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Belotti not fully fit.

Coach Gian Piero Ventura gave Brazil-born Jorginho his first competitive appearance for Italy with Florenzi and Manolo Gabbiadini also handed starts. Napoli's in-form winger Lorenzo Insigne, however, was once again left on the bench.*AFP

 

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