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World Cup 2018

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Buffon quits after stunned Italy fail to make finals

 

By Robert Jones

Veteran goalkeeper Gigi Buffon has retired from international football after Italy failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958, declaring: "I am sorry for all of Italian football."

Italy trailed Sweden 1-0 on aggregate ahead of their second-leg match at the San Siro and over 90 nerve-racking minutes again failed to score against their opponents.

Giampiero Ventura's Azzurri boasted over 75% possession and took no fewer than 26 shots on goal but ultimately failed to book their place at the 2018 Russian World Cup.

After the match, their veteran 39-year-old goalkeeper Buffon confirmed his international retirement and also apologised for his team's failure.

"I'm not sorry for myself but all of Italian football," he said in an emotional interview.

"We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There's regret at finishing like that.

"There is certainly a future for Italian football, as we have pride, ability, determination and after bad tumbles, we always find a way to get back on our feet.

"I leave a squad of talent that will have their say, including Gigio Donnarumma and Mattia Perin.

"I want to give a hug to Chiello, Barza, Leo and Lele, who I had almost 10 years alongside."

Buffon added: “I thank the lads who were with us and, although it wasn’t enough, I hope that we gave them something.

“In football you win as a group, you lose as a group, you divide the credit and the blame. The coach is part of this entire group.”

The game also proved to be the last for manager Ventura, who quickly tended his resignation from the post after the draw in Milan.

Trailing 1-0 on aggregate to a Jakob Johansson goal scored in Friday’s first leg in Stockholm, the Azzurri were cheered on by almost 72,000 impassioned Italian fans at the San Siro.

But, despite laying siege to the Scandinavian defence over 90 feverish minutes, Italy could not make the breakthrough, and the goalless draw was enough for Sweden to reach Russia 2018.

Andreas Granqvist was Sweden’s saviour in the first half. First he scooped Ciro Immobile’s effort off the line before tidying up when Marco Parolo looked like turning home.

After several efforts just after the break, the Azzurri didn’t threaten again until the 77th minute, Allessandro Florenzi blasting high.

With three minutes remaining, substitute Stephan El Shaarawy’s powerful drive was saved and that was that for Italy.

The aftermath was just as painful, a tearful Buffon undeservedly ending a monumental international career after one of its darkest moments.

Belfast Telegraph

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