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Italy holds it breath as World Cup showdown looms

AFP  |  Rome 

was anxiously counting down to kick-off in a showdown with that will determine whether the football superpower misses the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.

The four-times winners of sport's greatest prize have not suffered the agony of missing the finals since the 1958 edition in


But sitting out next year's tournament in is a real possibility after a 1-0 defeat in their play-off first leg in Stockholm on Friday.

Under-fire coach Gian Piero Ventura insists the Azzurri have sufficient quality to turn the tie around - a view that seemed to be shared by fans strolling around central on Monday afternoon.

"It is not as if are that strong a team," said Fabio Votano, a Roman who was only a toddler when last missed out on a World Cup finals.

"Not winning is completely unthinkable, basically something that has never happened before. For Italy, getting to the World Cup finals is almost a duty.

"Of course there are many more important things going on in Italy, but, certainly, in sporting terms it will be a big drama because in the past we have always qualified and we have often won."

ended up in the play-offs as a result of finishing second in their qualifying group behind Spain and a sluggish performance in Stockholm has compounded the task of reaching next year's finals in

- 'Losing not allowed' -

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The first leg was a scrappy, physical affair with edging it thanks to substitute Jakob Johansson's deflected shot just after the hour mark.

"They're playing miserably at the moment but still has a good set of players in my opinion," said another resident, Enrico Doddi.

"It is all down to mentality: if can convince itself it has strong players it can make an impact at the World Cup. And we have to start tonight.

"You cannot have a good World Cup without "

Another fan, Manuel Sanna, said failure would be a massive blow to the country's morale, extending beyond the confines of sport.

"It'd be a defeat for a whole people, not just Italian football.

"Football is very important to us, we are brought up with the passion for it. I'm hoping for an Italian football renaissance along with an economic one."

Amid the prevailing anxiety, Turin mayor Chiara Appendino struck a lighter note by tweeting a picture of herself in an top and "Losing is not allowed,' emblazoned across the image.

In a reference to Sweden's most famous export, IKEA, the mayor tweeted: "They're famous for making their homes welcoming, it would be a shame not to send them back to them."

- 'Football in our blood' -

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Enrico Addati, a teenager from Bari in southern Italy, told AFP: "We are all very anxious. I just hope that the squad can produce the sense of honour and especially the heart they will need.

"The prospect of failure is really not very nice. can't not be at the World Cup.

"For sure there will have to be resignations if that happens. But we don't want to get to that point. We have to be at the World Cup and fighting to win it."

Neapolitan schoolteacher Laura Sobrero said coach Ventura had to accept responsibility for having been left sweating until the last minute.

"I don't think you can blame the squad because we have some really good players who are not having the impact they should have, maybe because they are not being played in the right roles," she said.

"It will be awful if we don't get to the World Cup because we are so used to being there and it being a very intense experience for the whole country.

"not being there will almost be like an offence to the fans, so let's hope we can do it. Football is in our blood.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, November 13 2017. 21:48 IST
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