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Italy was unable to defeat Sweden on Monday, meaning the soccer-crazed country will miss the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
USA TODAY Sports

ROME — Italians reacted with shock, grief, illness and tears Tuesday, a day after the unthinkable occurred: a loss by the national soccer team that knocked Italy out of the World Cup for the first time in 59 years.

“It feels like the pope died,” lamented Sandro Lucchesi, 68, a retired bank clerk who was just 8 the only other time Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup. “Usually, everyone loves to talk about soccer, whether it’s to complain or brag. But this time, all my friends are just hanging their heads.”

Italy’s 0-0 tie with underdog Sweden in Milan sent the Swedish team into next year’s tournament — the first time it qualified since 2006. 

Only Brazil and Germany had participated in more consecutive World Cups than Italy, which has won the competition four times. 

“This is one of the cases where you can’t really be guilty of hyperbole,” said Paddy Agnew, author of Forza Italia: The Fall and Rise of Italian Football. “One of the few areas where Italy can claim to truly excel amid all the countries of the world is with (soccer).”

“We should all stand by now for a long period of weeping and the gnashing of teeth,” Agnew concluded. 

The loss was the top story in virtually every newspaper and news program in the country. 

La Gazetta dello Sport, Italy’s top sports newspaper, called the result “a brutal blow beyond the incalculable” and compared it to “the sports equivalent of the (sinking of the) Titanic.” Il Corriere dello Sport, another sports daily, called it an “Apocalypse.”

The mainstream media was just as harsh. The daily newspaper La Repubblica said in a front-age story: “We thought we had already hit rock bottom, but we’ve gone even further — we’ve gone back 60 years.”

At least four starters on the national team announced their retirements in the wake of the stunning loss, including goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, 39, the hero of Italy’s 2006 World Cup victory. He was vying to make his sixth World Cup team, which would have been a record.

Oddsmakers said it coach Gian Piero Ventura likely will be fired by the end of the week. 

Some version of the story occupied the top three spots for trending topics on social media in Italy Tuesday morning. One meme showed images of Napoleon’s French Army, the military of Nazi Germany, and the Italian national soccer team with the tagline: “Three notable groups that failed in their efforts to enter Russia,” a referrence to the host of next year’s tournament.

Barista Andrea Nicolini, 31, said he never considered the possibility that Italy might not qualify for the World Cup. 

“I realize this wasn’t the best national team we’ve ever had, but there’s still no way to look at this but to say it’s a national tragedy,” Nicolini said.

Leonardo Di Maggio, 53, a taxi driver agreed. “I watched the game and it made me feel sick to my stomach,” he said. “Every time a passenger in my cab brings up the fact that we won’t be at the World Cup, it makes me want to pull my car to the side of the road to cry. It takes all my strength to keep a straight face and drive on.”

More: Italy fails to qualify for World Cup for first time since 1958

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