Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, as they were held 0-0 by Sweden at San Siro, losing the play-off 1-0 on aggregate.
Ciro Immobile saw a first half effort cleared off the line and both teams had two very strong penalty shouts waved away, while Alessandro Florenzi’s spectacular volley whistled wide and Mikael Lustig almost scored an own goal when his deflection hit the bar.
The Azzurri lost the first leg 1-0 in Solna on Friday thanks to a deflected Jakob Johansson strike and faced the very real possibility of missing their first World Cup since 1958. Marco Verratti sat out a ban with Simone Zaza and Leonardo Spinazzola injured, plus Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Belotti not fully fit, so Jorginho got his first competitive Italy appearance with Alessandro Florenzi and Manolo Gabbiadini surprise picks. Sweden welcomed Mikael Lustig back from suspension, but Johansson stepped in for injured Albin Ekdal.
Italy had never lost at San Siro, managing 22 victories and four draws, while the Scandinavians had lost all three previous visits without scoring a goal.
The hosts had very strong penalty appeals within eight minutes, as Marco Parolo seemed to be tripped from behind by Ludwig Augsustinsson, but the referee waved play on and booked Giorgio Chiellini for dissent.
Sweden also had appeals when the ball was flicked on to Matteo Darmian’s wrist, but the referee again waved play on, considering it involuntary.
Ciro Immobile ran on to a Jorginho through ball and hit the side-netting from a tight angle. Sweden were forced into a change, as Jakob Johansson’s left knee buckled and he was stretchered off to make way for Gustav Svensson.
Jorginho’s through ball found Immobile to pull back from the by-line for Antonio Candreva to blast over, but Bonucci got a knock to the knee and was limping badly.
Emil Forsberg was booked for more protests as his shot hit Andrea Barzagli on the arm, but it was considered ball-to-hand.
Another Jorginho through ball found Immobile and he flicked it between Robin Olsen’s legs, but Andreas Granqvist got back for a decisive goal-line clearance.
Immobile pulled back again from the by-line for Parolo, but once more Granqvist was there with a crucial challenge to block. Florenzi also forced an Olsen save at the base of the near post. The Azzurri had 74 per cent possession in the first half and 11 shots to one.
Straight after the restart, Darmian chested down a cross and was kneed in the ribs by Lustig, but the referee instead of awarding the penalty gave a non-existent handball against the Italy wing-back.
Florenzi thought he’d scored on 53 minutes with a magnificent flying volley on Darmian’s cross, but it flashed inches past the far post.
Bonucci fractured his nose on Friday, but threw away the protective mask on the hour mark, as it was irritating him. Giampiero Ventura threw on Stephan El Shaarawy – who wasn’t even on the bench in the first leg – and Andrea Belotti.
Florenzi’s cross was deflected into the air and on to the bar off Lustig’s outstretched leg on 66 minutes, while Jorginho’s effort was smothered.
Federico Bernardeschi was the final Italy substitution and Olsen palmed away a Parolo header, but the offside flag was up. With 10 minutes to go and hope running out, the crowd at San Siro began to sing the national anthem.
El Shaarawy saw his ferocious shot beaten away by Olsen and Parolo’s glancing header flashed wide, then Buffon came up for the corner that Jorginho drilled off target, but the siege was too little, too late.
Italy 0-0 Sweden (0-1 agg)
Italy: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Candreva (Bernarceschi 76), Florenzi, Jorginho, Parolo, Darmian (El Shaarawy 63); Immobile, Gabbiadini (Belotti 63)
Sweden: Olsen; Lustig, Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson (Rohden 72), Larsson, Johansson (Svensson 19), Forsberg; Toivonen (Thelin 54), Berg
Ref: Lahoz (SPA)