Gianluigi Buffon has announced his retirement from international duty as Italy failed to qualify for Russia 2018 after losing out to Sweden 2-1 on aggregate in their European Qualifier Play-Off game. The Italian team which was looking to overturn 1-0 deficit in the first leg at Stockholm against the Swedes had never failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1958 as both teams squared off at the San Siro in Milan last night.

The Italians had a shot in the sixth minute after Matteo Darmian’s ball into the opponent’s box ended up with Florenzi on the edge but the AS Roma midfielder scuffed his shot wide. The home team had an appeal for a penalty turned down in the eighth minute after Parolo went down in the box under pressure from Ludwig Augustinsson but Spanish Referee Mateu Lahoz waved it away as he deemed it a clean tackle and booked Juventus defender Chiellini for protesting the call.

Sweden also had had their penalty appeal turned downed five minutes later when the ball bounced up onto Darmian’s hand as the players had a great shout for a penalty but Lahoz held his nerve and refused to point to the spot. Ciro Immobile had a chance to run off the Swedish defence in the 16th minute but ended having to shoot from an acute angle from a few yards out which resulted in the ball hitting the side of the net. The away team’s first shot on goal came in the 23rd minute as Viktor Claesson received a knock-down ball from Marcus Berg, but his shot failed to trouble Buffon.

The Azzurri had a golden chance to go a goal up 5 minutes before the break as a pass from Napoli’s Jorginho made its way to Immobile who hit the ball beyond Swedish goalie Robin Olsen but Andreas Granqvist got back just in time to clear the ball off the line to keep the score level going into the break. Italy still continued with their intensity from the first half as Darmian got a cross into the the box which found Florenzi in the 54th minute but his volley with the outside of his boot from 12 yards drifted just wide. Another chance fell into the lap once again three minutes later but Italy could not convert as Chiellini scuffed the balled with his weaker right foot straight at the goalkeeper.

Swedish substitute Isaac Thelin in the 59th minute went through on goal but was held up by the Italian defence as he saw his shot from inside the area half-blocked by Bonucci which made Buffon to gather the ball easily.

Italy enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession on the night; huffing and puffing for a long time but Sweden was resolute. The visitors rarely showed any real ambition to score as they sat deep for almost the entire game, struggling to get out of their half regularly and were forced to just send the ball as far down the field just to earn some respite.

In the end, Sweden held on to book their place in next year’s World Cup as they defended with incredible composure on the night when the Italians threw everything they had at them but it was not just enough in the end.

Bowing out after the game, Buffon who made 175 international appearances for the senior side said, ‘’I am leaving a national team set-up that will know how to pick itself up again.’’ The 2006 World Cup champion added after the defeat, ‘’ Best wishes to everybody, and especially to those with whom I have shared this beautiful journey.’’

Buffon’s World Cup winning team-mates Andrea Barzagli (Juventus) and Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma) also confirmed they too were hanging up their boots for the national team.

Chinedu Victor.






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