FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifying: Italy fall short against Sweden in 0-0 draw at San Siro

Down and out: Italy's Matteo Darmian. Photo: AP
Down and out: Italy's Matteo Darmian. Photo: AP

One of the biggest nations in the world of football will not be going to the World Cup next year, after Italy fell short in their play-off tie against Sweden. 

After a 1-0 win in Solna last week, the Swedes needed only to avoid defeat in Milan and managed to hold on by the skin of their teeth, grinding out a 0-0 draw despite being on the back foot for the entire 90 minutes.

Funnily enough, the first and only time the Azzurri failed in World Cup qualifying before today was in 1958, when the tournament was held in Sweden. 

Both teams had massive penalty shouts in the opening 20 minutes, only for referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz to avoid pointing to the spot on either occasion. The first massive chance of the first half fell to Italian winger Antonio Candreva in the 27th minute after a cross wasn't cleared properly by the Swedes, but from 12 yards out he hit a blazing drive narrowly over the crossbar. 

A minute later, Sweden should have had another penalty, when a lofted pass from Emil Forsberg smacked straight into the raised arm of defender Andrea Barzagli - but the referee waved away the protests, and booked the RB Leipzig midfielder for dissent. 

With five minutes to go in the half, Italy were centimetres from being level in the tie. Ciro Immobile sprung the offside trap and squeezed a finish under the charging keeper, only for defender Andreas Granqvist to get back and clear the ball before it went over the goal line - and two minutes later, it was Granqvist again thwarting the home side, this time with a crunching tackle inside the box. 

Italy continued to press, and after the interval, a cross from Matteo Darmian was met acrobatically by Alessandro Florenzi, but it rolled agonizingly wide of the far post with the keeper beaten.

But for all of Italy's territorial dominance, clear cut chances were hard to fashion - they forced a couple of comfortable saves out of Robin Olsen, but by the 75th minute it was still deadlocked as the boos started to ring out around the San Siro. 

Marcus Berg put the ball in the net for the visitors in the 83rd minute, but was flagged for offside - the final real chance came via the boot of substitute Stephan El Shaarawy, but his powerful effort was well parried by Olsen, before Marco Parolo headed wide with three minutes left on the clock. 

With Sweden's qualification, 29 teams at the World Cup are now confirmed, with the winners of Ireland/Denmark, Australia/Honduras and Peru/New Zealand to be the final three into the tournament, with those games played on Wednesday morning, Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, respectively.