Italy’s shock failure to reach Russia proved to be Gianluigi Buffon’s final international. The 39-year-old called time on his 20-year, 175-cap career after the 1-0 aggregate play-off defeat to Sweden.
“It is upsetting that my last match decided we didn’t qualify for the World Cup,” Buffon said. “I’m sorry. Not for me but for Italy. We blew something that could have meant so much. The only regret is that it ended like this.”
The Juventus goalkeeper, who made his Italy debut in October 1997, had decided to retire from international duty after the 2018 World Cup and confirmed he will take his leave early. “The blame is divided equally among all of us. There must be no scapegoats,” he said. “We win together and we lose together.”
Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli also announced their international retirement. Buffon hinted the defender Giorgio Chiellini will join them but insisted the national team’s future is bright.
“There’s definitely a future, because we have pride and strength,” he said. “We’re stubborn and hard-headed. After ugly falls we find a way to rise back up. A lot of these kids are talented, including Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mattia Perin. I wish them a lot of luck.”
Buffon was in goal when Italy won the World Cup for the fourth time in 2006 by beating France in the notorious final when Zinedine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi. He was also in the squad in 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014.
Giampiero Ventura denied reports of his resignation in his post-match press conference. “I apologise for the result but not for the effort and hard work,” the manager said. “I do realise the result is the most important thing.”
Italy’s leading sports daily newspaper described the failure to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 as the arrival of the apocalypse.
La Gazzetta dello Sport blamed “opportunities missed” in an article titled: “Italy, this is the apocalypse.” It continued: “We will not be with you and you will not be with us. A love so great must be reserved for other things. There will be inevitable consequences but let’s just see if they stop with Ventura or go further.”
La Gazzetta also suggested Carlo Ancelotti, who is available after leaving Bayern Munich, and Antonio Conte as Ventura’s potential successors.
Sweden celebrated their first World Cup qualification since 2006 – with captain Andreas Granqvist shaving his head to honour a bet with team-mates. “I thought they had forgotten it but they definitely did not,” Granqvist said.