DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Here's some history. For the first time in 60 years, Italy has failed to qualify for the World Cup. It tied in a qualifying match against Sweden last night. That was not enough to get them in. Fans, players are beside themselves. Here's Italian goalkeeper Gigi Buffon reacting to the loss.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GIGI BUFFON: (Speaking Italian).
GREENE: He's just saying sorry; sorry over and over again. Apologizing, he said, for all of Italian football. Journalist Christopher Livesay is in Rome and is on the line. And Chris, how'd this happen?
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Well, it's being described as an apocalypse here in Italy. That's the word that the head of Italy's soccer federation used. Italy not making World Cup is something like the Yankees not making the playoffs, only more shocking since World Cup only comes around every four years and...
GREENE: Although the Yankees don't always make the playoffs, this sounds even more of an apocalypse than the Yankees not making the playoffs.
LIVESAY: Well, absolutely, especially in a country where soccer is holy. And it was a stunning defeat from a team that's won the Cup four times and most recently back in 2006. And the way they lost is infuriating to fans - no goals in both of their playoff matches against them. They had several near misses, but nothing hit the back of the net. And Buffon, the goalkeeper, you heard at the top is likely crying because he's retiring from international play. This was his last match. And he'll play out the rest of the regular season, but this is it on the international scene.
GREENE: Yeah, and it's so unthinkable. I mean, going into the qualifying period, I mean, he's probably not even contemplating the idea of not playing for the World Cup. But what - who's getting the blame here?
LIVESAY: Well, Italians are blaming the coach, Gian Piero Ventura. He's been alienating fans for some unorthodox tactics since he got the job last year. Right now they're tearing him apart for starting last night's game with three of Italy's best players on the bench, presumably, saving them for future matches that, alas, will be for other national teams to play.
Of course you can't just blame the coach. Italians are wondering if there isn't something deeply wrong with the training system that maybe isn't cultivating young Italian talent - the top Italian soccer league, Serie As, full of non-Italian players that go home to play on their own national teams during international tournaments like this one. But one more reason I keep hearing for Italy's loss is cockiness. They simply thought this match was in the bag and didn't give it their all.
GREENE: So maybe there's some broad lesson here for (laughter) all athletes and all sports fans. But that's no consolation to Italian soccer fans this morning. That is Chris Livesay, a journalist in Rome, talking to us about Italy missing qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years. Chris, thanks.
LIVESAY: Thanks for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREA BOCELLI SONG "CON TE PARTIRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.