Leeds United: Defender’s World Cup dream still alive as Italy miss out

Pontus Jansson.
Pontus Jansson.
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Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after being shut out by Sweden at a sold-out San Siro.

Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after being shut out by Sweden at a sold-out San Siro.

Trailing 1-0 on aggregate to a Jakob Johansson goal scored in Friday’s first leg in Stockholm, Giampiero Ventura’s Azzurri were cheered on by almost 72,000 Italian fans in Milan.

But despite laying siege to the Scandinavian defence over 90 feverish minutes, Italy could not make the breakthrough and the goalless draw was enough for Sweden to reach Russia 2018.

Leeds United defender Pontus Jansson was an unused substitute and will be hoping to make the Sweden squad for next summer’s finals.

Head coach Ventura, who in August agreed a new contract running until 2020, has borne the brunt of the criticism across a World Cup campaign which saw four-time world champions Italy limp to a second-place finish behind Spain, and with that the ignominy of a two-legged play-off.

It was always going to be hard for Italy to get their own way in the Swedish capital, but with a wealth of striking options, one of the stingiest defences in Europe and arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Gianluigi Buffon, much more was expected from this return clash.

Buffon may be hardest hit by Italy’s failure to reach the summer finals. At 39, the Juventus stopper had already decided to quit international football after the tournament and his 175th cap, won on a dismal night in Milan, turned out to be his last as he confirmed after Italy’s exit.

In tweets from the national team’s official account, he said: “We are proud, we are strong, we are stubborn. We will pick ourselves up as we have always done.

“I am leaving a national team set-up that will know how to pick itself up again.

“Best wishes to everybody, and especially to those with whom I have shared this beautiful journey.”

The goalless draw in Milan was the sixth successive qualifying tie to finish 0-0 around the globe.

Leeds United goalkeeper, Felix Wiedwald.

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