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Italy’s FIFA World Cup exit: The curse of scandals, lack of trust

Italy failed to qualify for the first FIFA World Cup after 1958. The Azzurri has lost their colour and lustre over the years

football Updated: Nov 14, 2017 19:00 IST
Nilankur Das
Nilankur Das
New Delhi
FIFA World Cup,Italy national football team,Gianluigi Buffon
Italy football team members after their loss to Sweden in a 2018 FIFA World Cup playoff in Milan.(REUTERS)

A match-fixing scandal in 2000 threatened to upstage the cricket juggernaut in India. Thankfully, the Men in Blue had a great leader in Sourav Ganguly, who with a bunch of youngsters, helped restore people’s faith in the game with some heroic performances.

READ | Italy lose to Sweden in play-off, won’t play a FIFA World Cup since 1958

But football is a different ball game. Unlike cricket, clubs are nucleas of the game. So, when the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal hit Italy’s club football in 2006, in hindsight, it sounded the death knell of football in a country which once dominated the Beautiful Game.

Months after the scandal broke out, Italy went on to win the FIFA World Cup and everybody thought things were hunky dory. But 11 years on, the four-time winners have failed to qualify for the World Cup.

READ | Gianluigi Buffon bids adieu to international football after FIFA World Cup exit

Gradual downfall

The match-fixing scandal in 2006 saw Juventus relegated to the Serie B and AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina were docked points. Juventus top boss Luciano Moggi was banned for life. Italy were still reeling under its aftermath with a lot of top players leaving Italy to play in leagues of England, Spain and Germany when another betting scandal broke out in 2011-12. With the arrests of ex-Italy striker Giuseppe Signori and Lazio vice captain Stefano Mauri Italian football hit rock bottom.

READ | Italy’s FIFA World Cup qualification failure sends shockwaves around the world

The faith of fans was the first thing Serie A lost out on. Gone were the highs of 2003 when two Italian teams -- Juventus and Milan -- walked out in front of a packed Old Trafford for UEFA Champions League final.

Sweden players celebrate after defeating Italy in a FIFA World Cup playoff in Milan. (REUTERS)

n fact, since 2007, when AC Milan won the Champions League last, only two Italian teams have managed to get past the quarter-final stage. Juventus finished runners-up twice in 2014-15 and 2016-17 while Inter won the title in 2009-10.

READ | Cannavaro attacks ‘mummies who control Italian football’ after World Cup debacle

Lack of superstars

It does speak of the decline but what affected the league more was the lack of superstars. Top league rejects migrated to Italy. And Juventus signing spent force Partice Evra or Inter signing United reject Nemanja Vidic spoke volumes of what was to follow.

READ | FIFA World Cup history: Italy join France, Argentina in list of shocking exits

Italy’s World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta, speaking to BBC, predicted the downfall. “There’s no money in Italy at the moment and the best players go to play in other leagues – Spain, England, Germany. Italy’s going down,” he had said.

In January this year, Milan legend Marco Van Basten told La Gazzetta dello Sport ahead of Milan’s Serie A match against Napoli: “You know what makes me the saddest of all? To see San Siro half empty. That was unimaginable in my day. Milan may be lacking big-name players, but they are also lacking a modern structure.

READ | Italian media laments team’s ‘apocalyptic’ failure to reach 2018 FIFA World Cup

“Things are not going any better in Italy’s other stadiums either, with almost all of them the same as they were in the 90s. Italy had the richest, most beautiful league. Everybody wanted to play in Italy, but you did not know how to manage this advantage. With scandals, inadequate structures and arguments, you’ve fallen behind,” Van Basten said.

First Published: Nov 14, 2017 17:21 IST