The Azzurri were undeniably unlucky in their 1-0 loss to Sweden but their coach's failings were once again exposed at the highest level
Italy boss Gian Piero Ventura declared ahead of Friday's play-off clash with Sweden, "I have never considered the possibility of not going to the World Cup."
One can be sure that he is thinking about it now, though, with the Azzurri now facing the very real prospect of failing to qualify for the game's showpiece event for the first time in 60 years, after a 1-0 loss in Stockholm.
Of course, with the second leg to come at a sold-out San Siro on Monday, the situation is far from irretrievable. Indeed, Italy were unfortunate to lose at the Friends Arena.
Not only did they create the better chances, with Andrea Belotti missing the kind of header which he has become renowned for burying and Matteo Darmian striking the post with a sublime strike, the visitors were undone by an own goal from Daniel De Rossi that neither the midfielder nor goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could have done much about.
Ventura will, rightly, argue that Lady Luck did not just smile on the hosts, she spent the entire evening openly flirting with them.
However, there is no getting past the fact that Italy remain a side without a clear identity - nearly 18 months since the former Torino boss succeeded Antonio Conte at the helm - and you know you have problems offensively when Darmian is your best attacking outlet.
The very fact that they lined up with a 3-5-2 (the formation favoured by his predecessor) in Stockholm was a damning indictment of Ventura's inability to stamp his mark on this side.
His ludicrous decision to employ a 4-2-4 formation - a simply unworkable system against top sides in the modern game - had to be ditched after the rout at the hands of Spain that ended Italy's hopes of automatic qualification.
Consequently, he was forced to revert to what his players knew best in the hope that it would produce the kind of commanding, cohesive performance that he had thus far failed miserably to provoke since taking charge.
In fairness, after a difficult opening 45 minutes, Italy did have the better of the game but it was obvious well before the break that Belotti had still not rediscovered his match sharpness after his recent injury lay-off - the Torino hitman touched the ball three times in the first half - yet Ventura made no changes during the interval.
Furthermore, the fact Ventura could find no room in his starting line-up for his most inspirational attacker, Lorenzo Insigne, reflects horrible on the Italy boss, whose side have scored just three goals in their last five games.
He will now need the Napoli forward to provide the spark in Milan, particularly as midfielder Marco Verratti picked up his customary yellow card, thus ruling him out of the second leg and robbing Italy of their best player.
The tie is very much alive and Ventura could belatedly get his tactics and team selection right. It's certainly a possibility - just not a probability
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