This is the official end of an era for the Italy national team. After a 0-0 draw with Sweden on Monday, combined with a 1-0 defeat on Friday, Italy will not be at the 2018 World Cup, ending a run of 14 straight World Cup appearances. The dominoes are already falling in the aftermath of the Azzurri failing to qualify.
Men's World Cup
Leave it to 19-year-old Christian Pulisic to provide some much-needed perspective on the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In a current political climate that does not often favor communicating thoughtful, introspective sentiments, Pulisic finally spoke up on the state of U.S. soccer with a thought-provoking, well-written article in The Player’s Tribune released on Monday.
In the end, the only moment that separated Switzerland and Northern Ireland in their World Cup qualifying playoff was a dubious penalty call awarded to the Swiss in Belfast. Sunday’s return leg at St Jakob-Park in Basel ended in a 0-0 draw with the Irish again looking extremely limited going forward, but Switzerland were entirely wasteful as well, particularly forward Haris Seferovic.
Following a 1-0 defeat to Sweden on Friday, Italy is on the brink of failing to qualify for the World Cup for just the second time in the national team’s history. Italy must rebound in the return leg on Monday in Milan if the Azzurri want to reach a 19th World Cup.
Sweden registered a famous 1-0 victory over Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff first leg in Stockholm thanks to a deflected effort from substitute Jakob Johansson. The return leg is on Monday in Milan with Italy’s hopes of a 19th World Cup appearance in serious jeopardy.
Johansson’s 61st minute strike was vital, but Sweden’s ability to successfully keep Italy off the scoresheet was just as big. An away goal in Milan would almost certainly be enough to send Sweden through, and this Swedish side has enough talent to go toe-to-toe with the four-time world champions.
Northern Ireland's World Cup hopes were all but dashed Thursday as the hosts lost 1-0 to Switzerland in the first leg of their World Cup playoff. The goal came via a Ricardo Rodriguez penalty in the 56th minute. Ricardo Rodriguez should not have scored that goal because a penalty should not have been called. Take a look for yourself:
Taylor Twellman is adamant that this is a penalty and you know what, reader? Taylor Twellman is wrong.
Of the four UEFA World Cup qualifying playoffs, few would have expected this sort of entertainment from the Croatia vs. Greece match. Greece, a team that once turned winning while attacking as little as possible into an art form, were away to a resolute Croatia with its star striker on the bench in what is usually a cagey first leg. But the match was refreshingly exciting.
For almost an entire year, Argentina’s national team refused to speak with the press. The boycott was the result of a terrible run in qualifying which led to extremely harsh criticism from the media, including an unfounded substantiation that Ezequiel Lavezzi had been dropped for smoking pot after training.
FIFA’s international breaks can be full of thrilling competition between the world’s best. This break will see some of the most intense matches outside of a major competition you’ll ever see in the UEFA and intercontinental playoffs to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.