The morning after Italy’s disastrous World Cup play-off defeat to Sweden back in November was one of tears, anger and recriminations.
For a country where football is a matter of national pride, the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for this summer’s tournament was unacceptable.
It came at a price for manager Gian Piero Ventura.
He was sacked only days later, while the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele De Rossi – members of the generation that lifted the trophy back in 2006 – announced their retirement from international football.
It was truly an end of an era.
But much like England supporters during Euro 2008, we still imagine fans from Italy will be tuning in to watch the action, even if their beloved team won’t be a part of the fun.
But if there’s no Italy at the World Cup, then who will Italian fans be cheering on this summer instead?
We decided to find out.
In November, Giovanni, a magazine editor from Sardinia, was surprisingly calm.
“I’m not blaming the players,” he told us.
“They’re not the best generation of footballers for sure, but it’s the manager’s fault. We deserved to go out”
Like many fans, he felt Ventura’s stubbornness and disdain for certain players (notably, the excellent Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne) was the reason behind Italy’s failure.
The problem was that – much like England back in 2007 – Italy expected their team to be at the World Cup, even if their current squad was somewhat lacking the same quality it did a decade ago.
Months later, with the World Cup only weeks away, Giovanni admitted to us that he’ll still be watching the matches in Russia.
He said: “I think I might follow England. They’re a sadly unaccomplished team in the finals, but I like them as an outsider.
“And maybe I’ll follow Sweden. After all, they defeated Italy!”
It seems he’s not alone.
Everyone loves a so-called underdog, which is why we all enjoyed watching Colombia and Costa Rica at the last World Cup.
And then, of course, there was Iceland at Euro 2016.
In fact, Carolina, a student from Modena, told us she’ll be keeping a close eye on England’s Euro 2016 tormentors.
She said: “They’re a surprisingly good team, despite coming from a country which has such a small population.”
And football mad Rosario, also a student, concurred, saying: “I really like Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Iceland as a team.
“For such a small country, I think it’s amazing that they’ve managed to qualify for the World Cup, especially when teams like Italy and Holland failed to do so.”
But it isn’t long before the big names start to come up.
Luca, who hails from Parma, is keen on Belgium and their multi-talented squad.
He said: “Their team is made up of a great generation of players like Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard, so I’ll be supporting them”.
And Leone from Reggio agreed, saying: “Belgium’s team is so young but so talented; they may surprise us all.”
But there was another name on Luca’s lips.
“As well as Belgium, I’ll be keeping an eye on Argentina, because Lionel Messi deserves to win the World Cup.”
In fact, Messi’s name comes up more than most, even from causal fans like Stefano, a nurse who lives in Milan.
“I’m not really into football, if I’m being honest,” he said.
“I was sad about Italy, of course, but I’ll definitely watch the World Cup and if I had to pick a team, I’d probably support Argentina.”
Why are Italian fans so passionate about Argentina?
Lorenzo, who studies in London, had the answer.
He said: “We Italians feel close to them, as many Argentinian players have played in Serie A.
“Diego Maradona was at Napoli, and then there’s the likes of [Gonazlo] Higuain and [Mauro] Icardi.
“What’s more, I think that Messi deserves to win the World Cup, to make his career perfect.”
But what about England?
“I can’t possibly support England – I’m sorry!” he said.
“I live and work here and I have an English girlfriend, but I’m not so keen on English football.
“I love the Premier League, of course, but it lacks tactics.”
We finally found some love for the Three Lions from Pasquale, who mentioned England along with the likes of France and Spain.
He said: “They don’t have the experience of winning a World Cup for a long time, but they could make a difference.”
- The agony and ecstasy of Lionel Messi’s complex relationship with his country
- Who is going to be the breakout talent from each group at the World Cup?
- QUIZ: How well do you actually remember the 2014 World Cup?
Dream Team World Cup has landed!
The greatest show on Earth just got that bit more exciting.
That’s because the Dream Team World Cup game is now live ahead of this summer’s tournament.
Dream Team World Cup
- Completely free to enter
- £50m budget and 20 transfers throughout the tournament
- £175k total prizepot (for UK players only)
- SIGN UP FOR DREAM TEAM WORLD CUP NOW
Messi? Ronaldo? Jordan Henderson? Take your pick, they’re all available for you to select at your mercy.
It’s absolutely free to enter, there’s a mouthwatering £175k prizepot and you can even play outside the UK.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up here!