It's tragic that Italy has failed to qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup. But that's the consequence of Italy's playoff defeat against Sweden on Monday.
The first tragic quality to this situation is its dramatic break with tradition. After all, not since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden (yes, they who beat Italy on Monday) have "the Azzurri" been absent from the world's premier soccer tournament. For Italians, it's a hammer blow tantamount to what Americans might feel if the NFL canceled a season.
Yet the real tragedy of Italy’s absence is that we’ll be denied the opportunity to see some of the world’s finest players represent their country.
We can be confident we're missing out.
Consider a few highlights from previous post-war tournaments.
In 1970, Italy narrowly bested West Germany in a 7-goal semi-final thriller at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico.
In 1982, starting slow, Italy revved up to win the World Cup by defeating Poland and West Germany in the knockout stages.
In 1990, Italy didn't concede a single goal until the semi-final, where after a 1-1 draw they were knocked out on penalties.
In 1994, Dino Baggio wowed the world with his goal scoring profligacy in the tournament and penalty theatrics in the final.
In 2006, Italy stormed the tournament, beating everyone but the United States (who they drew). In the final, the Azzurri defeated France on penalties.
Even then, it’s not simply Italy’s skill that makes them so important to the World Cup, it’s their very presence. Because when Italy is on the field, their opponent has that much more to play for. Defeating Italy is always a huge triumph and that pursuit has the tendency to bring out the best in other teams. In turn, Italy’s presence means we’re more likely to see higher-quality games.
Nevertheless, it's not all bad. Even though Italy and the United States won’t be playing in Russia, other top teams such as Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany, and Spain will be there. So we still have some good matches too look forward to!