MILAN (AP) — Italy's failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades shouldn't come as a shock to those who believe in fate, destiny and hoodoos.
Yes, Italy was expected to beat Sweden in their playoff. But the Scandinavian country has been associated with some of the Azzurri's darkest moments in football.
Italy's run of bad luck with Sweden dates all the way back to 1950 when, having won the previous two World Cups, it suffered its first ever defeat in the tournament -- at the hands of the Swedes. As a result, it failed to progress to the second round.
Eight years later, Italy needed just a point to qualify for the World Cup but surprisingly lost to Northern Ireland. That was the last time Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup. The tournament was held in Sweden.
And the last time Italy failed to qualify for a major tournament, was the 1992 European Championship. The Azzurri had to beat the USSR to qualify but hit the post in a 0-0 draw and missed out on the finals — held in Sweden.
Italy also failed to qualify for Euro 1984 despite being the then world champion, after two qualifying defeats to Sweden — including a 3-0 loss in Naples.
Perhaps the most famous incident of Sweden costing Italy dearly came at Euro 2004.
Only one result would have knocked Italy out of the tournament. Denmark and Sweden were angered by suggestions they would throw the game to progress together. But the match between the Nordic neighbors ended in a 2-2 draw and the Azzurri were out.
That match was one of those where a certain result suits both teams, and Italians remain embittered — with players being asked about it in the build-up to Monday's playoff.
In the previous game at Euro 2004, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had burst onto the international stage with an astonishing back-heeled goal five minutes from time to secure a 1-1 draw for Sweden against Italy.
And after beating Italy 1-0 on aggregate in the playoffs for the 2018 World Cup, Sweden is yet again Italian soccer fans' least favorite country.