Italy boycotted the World Cup by accident

OPINION: After their shock failure to qualify for Qatar, the Azzurri may turn out to be the lucky ones

Thursday, 31st March — By Richard Osley

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LIFE can come at you fast: one minute you are the European football champions, the next you are not even good enough to go to the World Cup.

And yet even by the traditions of a standard Italian melodrama, where it’s all or nothing, the Azzurri’s failure to qualify by dint of being unable to overcome North Macedonia will be a memorable page in history. For the cocksure 50-somethings who man the Italian defence and treat each moment in life with a swagger that can somehow be both ugly and admirable, it was quite the comeuppance.

In reaction, the use of pictures of our boy Bukayo Saka being cynically pulled back by Giorgio Chiellini in the Euros final at Wembley, however, underlined that we are a nation which never forgets; the mental database is still there, a list of wrong-doers who must be avenged.

And yet despite the international embarrassment for Italy and a second successive absence from the most important tournament of all, is Chiellini really the big loser here?

Never mind the nine domestic league titles and two Champions League accolades in his home safe, the guy still has that winner’s medal from last summer.

As a whole, Italy have four World Cups, and do not have to hark back to the 1960s to talk about all of this success.

They may be boom and bust, but it looks a hell of a lot more fun than watching Gareth Southgate beat the “easy” teams – there’s no easy games at this level, Clive – and then flop whenever faced with the superpowers.

There are hardly any countries that wouldn’t want to swap their international record with the Italian triumphs, but there is more for Italy to be thankful for: namely, now they don’t have to go to the World Cup.

When the competition comes around we will no doubt be there with the wallcharts, but if we were in a right mind and not hopelessly addicted to this sport, we would be boycotting a tournament organised in such distasteful circumstances.


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How did Qatar come to host this? I’ve been told we are not to do the “Qatar? It really sticks in your throat” joke here but we are supposed to be living in a new era where events like this are no longer hosted in places where you are scared to admit you are gay or there are restrictions on what you can or can’t do because you are a woman.

“Have you seen the UK recently?” is a shout, but even the most darkly drawn version of our country does not come close to shudder on the human rights Richter scale caused by those chosen for the World Cups.

We know how the World Cup ended in Russia, and then Qatar, but in the end, most will shrug and say, “Yeah, but the football’s on.”

Italy will have missed both with their accidental boycott. In the end, they may be the lucky ones.

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