For a nation with four World Cup wins on the résumé, Italy have suffered an unusually large number of widescreen humiliations at the greatest tournament of all. At Mexico 70, they conceded the most famous goal in World Cup history, Carlos Alberto setting the seal on the joint-largest, and certainly most iconic, spanking in a final. Four years earlier, a loss to North Korea led to their getting pelted by tomatoes upon arrival back home, protest registered via the medium of pizza topping. In 1950, they opted to travel to Brazil by boat having been spooked by Superga, then stank the place out and flew home anyway. Diego Maradona ran rings around them, on and off the pitch, at their own party in 1990. Roberto Baggio’s penalty is still climbing over LA. And in 2014 they only narrowly managed to beat Mr Roy’s England. The litany of gaffes, fiascos and faux pas is seemingly endless.
To be fair, in the grand karmic scheme of things, the Marco Tardelli celebration alone cancels out all of those historical negatives in one fell swoop. Never mind the four titles. However, the current crop are beginning to ask a little too much spiritual lifting of Marco. Last night in the qualifying play-offs, the Azzurri took 936 shots against North Macedonia, though not very many of them were on target. What happened next was inevitable. Aleksandar Trajkovski sent an injury-time pearler into the bottom left corner, and suddenly everyone was staring at Jorginho, wondering why he couldn’t have stopped jigging around like a harlequin in those group games against Switzerland and slotted at least one of his penalties. Oh Jorginho! There’s a time and a place for the Commedia dell’arte!
The shock result, which we all sort of knew was coming, means Italy will miss back-to-back World Cups for the very first time in their history. Any level of surprise is certainly tempered by their frankly abysmal run since winning the thing in 2006: these qualification disasters follow failures to get out of the groups at the 2010 and 2014 finals. It’s all very odd, especially when you factor in the events at Wembley last summer, which if nothing else mean Roberto Mancini still has some credit in the moral bank. “I hope he continues,” said Italian Football Federation chief suit Gabriele Gravina, responding to speculation that Mancini was for the off. “He has a commitment to a project and I hope he can quickly dispose of the waste.” Hey, if Gareth Southgate was allowed to stay in post after failing to get the job done against this shower, then Roberto surely deserves another chance.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“A phenomenon when he wants to be” – hacks at Marca are still at it with this backhanded compliment for that “parasite” Gareth Bale, who said it best after finding kryptonite in his feet to fire Wales to a 2-1 win: “They should be ashamed of themselves”.
“It’s just as well that Italy weren’t playing the whole of Macedonia!” – David Newton.
“I too have an O level in British Constitution. May I be the 1,057th reader to remind Bryan Paisley we do have a constitution, just not a written one. Think of it as being similar to the rules governing VAR – flexible and always changing, and completely lacking in clarity” – Ian Sharp (and 1,056 others).
“If Ukraine can’t fulfil their fixture against Scotland, Fifa should let Scotland play off against Wales and then offer Ukraine a guaranteed playoff place for the next World Cup (should they not qualify in the normal way)” – George Paterson.
“Having just retired, Jermain Defoe was presumably always a big fan of retirement, even as a young lad, etc etc and so on” – Pete Green.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
West Ham have made donations to nine animal welfare charities following the club fine handed out to Kurt Zouma for drop-kicking his pet cat.
The FA has ‘solved’ its no-trains logistical crisis for the City-Liverpool semi-final by laying on 100 free buses to ferry fans there for an almost-traditional kick-off time of 3.30pm. “This will ensure that up to 5,000 Liverpool and Manchester City supporters will be able to travel to Wembley Stadium free of charge for their semi-final tie,” blathered an FA suit.
The consortiums in the Chelsea beauty contest led by USA!!! USA!! USA! tycoon Todd Boehly and former British Airways suit Sir Martin Broughton are on the shortlist to buy the club. Property Nick Candy is out of the running but happy to consort with the other consortiums.
Ecuador and Uruguay will take their place at the Human Rights World Cup after coming through the South American qualifiers to join Brazil and Argentina. Fifth place and a playoff with an Asian qualifier is up for grabs, with Peru, Colombia and Chile still in the hunt.
Bruno Fernandes is set to sign a new Manchester United deal, keeping him at Big Red until 2026. Or 2027.
And Saturday’s north London derby in the WSL is off after an outbreak of Covid in Tottenham’s women’s team prevented them from facing league leaders Arsenal. The match was due to take place at the Emirates.
STILL WANT MORE?
Barney Ronay revels in Gareth Bale’s big-character energy in Wales’s Human Rights World Cup playoff win over Austria.
Ada Hegerberg gets her chat on with Suzanne Wrack about her five-year absence from Norway’s team, facing England at the Euros and inspiring “kick-ass kids”.
Ben Fisher on Cheltenham boss Michael Duff, a manager of the year candidate for steering a newly-promoted side to the top half of League One.
Ben White gets his chat on with Nick Ames about recovering from an iffy start at Arsenal and cementing his England ambitions. While another England hopeful, Kyle Walker-Peters, explains why he’s keen to prove people wrong.
European club football needs a more level playing field, reckons The Fiver’s colleague Philipp Lahm.
Footballing brain in a jar Jonathan Wilson has the lowdown on Nigeria v Ghana and a fierce rivalry.
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