Axe hangs over Ventura as Italy mourns

By ANDREW DAMPF

The status of Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura remains in question after the four-time champions failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Ventura said after Monday's 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden that he hadn't resigned because he hadn't discussed it with federation president Carlo Tavecchio.

On Tuesday, Tavecchio said he was calling a meeting for Wednesday to put together "an in-depth analysis and decide on choices for the future."

Ventura's contract was recently extended to 2020 but the deal includes a stipulation that it could be voided in case of a failed qualification.

Italy was eliminated after a scoreless draw against Sweden on Monday.

Tavecchio's status was also called into question by Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago, who oversees all sports in the country.

"I spoke with Tavecchio and I asked him what his intentions were and he told me that tomorrow there will be this meeting in the federation," Malago said. "As you know, it's up to the boss to take responsibility but if I were him I would resign."

There is a precedent since both Giancarlo Abete, the previous federation president, and coach Cesare Prandelli each resigned immediately after Italy was eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup.

Italian newspapers spared no words in describing the ignominious result against Sweden.

The Gazzetta dello Sport headline read "FINE" - "The End" - in big, block letters, while Turin daily La Stampa wrote "Apocalypse Azzurra."

Rome daily Il Messaggero called it "A national shame," and Rome sports daily Corriere dello Sport said "Everyone out."

"It's one of the darkest pages of our sporting history," Gazzetta editor Andrea Monti wrote in a front-page editorial. "A brutal slap beyond the incalculable harm for a country that lives and breathes football."

Grasping for silver linings, La Stampa also recognised that the Italian team was weak and would not have got very far in Russia.

"The only consolation is that we would have made utter fools of ourselves at the finals," it read.

Fans were equally philosophical, drawing parallels between the result and an economy where wages are stagnant as the country recovers from a long recession and unemployment remains above 10 per cent.

"For years I've had this feeling that Italian football is a little like Italy itself, which lives a lot in the past when the reality is that it finds itself dealing with things that are quite intense, even shocking," said Matteo Maragnano, peeling oranges in a cafe near Milan's gothic cathedral.