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Put your pasta out for Italy? Pfft!

FOOTBALL: I can't help but feel a sense of closure following Italy's 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier loss to Sweden.

** RECROP OF WCKAI 164 ** Australia's Lucas Neill, bottom, tackles Italy's Fabio Grosso in the penalty box during the last minutes of the Australia vs Italy Round of 16 World Cup soccer match at Fritz Walter Stadium in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Monday, June 26, 2006. Italy was awarded a penalty and won the match 1-0.(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) ** MOBILE/PDA USAGE OUT **
** RECROP OF WCKAI 164 ** Australia's Lucas Neill, bottom, tackles Italy's Fabio Grosso in the penalty box during the last minutes of the Australia vs Italy Round of 16 World Cup soccer match at Fritz Walter Stadium in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Monday, June 26, 2006. Italy was awarded a penalty and won the match 1-0.(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) ** MOBILE/PDA USAGE OUT ** EMILIO MORENATTI

The team four-time champions, who in 2006 knocked out the best ever Socceroos side fielded courtesy of Fabio Grosso's stoppage time theatrics before going on to lift the World Cup, will not feature at the finals in Russia for the first time since 1958.

An overrated team that has always grafted out results in ugly, unconvincing fashion, they were 26th in 2010 and 22nd in 2014 and have finally been dealt the most crushing blow of all.

It's not surprising by the way. After all, Italy is only ranked 15th, below New Zealand's opponents Peru (10th), who last played at the World Cup in 1982, and even Wales (14th), who missed qualification but have Gareth Bale to thank for their boosted ranking of recent years.

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 4, 2006 filer, Italy's Andrea Pirlo celebrates his side's first goal by teammate Fabio Grosso in the extra time of the semifinal World Cup soccer match between Germany and Italy in Dortmund, Germany. Tributes poured in for Andrea Pirlo after Italy's midfield maestro retired. The 38-year-old passing wizard played his final match on Sunday when New York City FC was beaten 4-3 by the Columbus Crew in the MLS Eastern Conference finals. Pirlo came on in the 90th minute of the match and was greeted with a showering of affection from fans at Yankee Stadium. While Pirlo played his final seasons in the United States, he made his name by helping AC Milan and Juventus win a combined six Serie A titles, two Champions Leagues with Milan and the above all the 2006 World Cup with Italy. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, July 4, 2006 filer, Italy's Andrea Pirlo celebrates his side's first goal by teammate Fabio Grosso in the extra time of the semifinal World Cup soccer match between Germany and Italy in Dortmund, Germany. Tributes poured in for Andrea Pirlo after Italy's midfield maestro retired. The 38-year-old passing wizard played his final match on Sunday when New York City FC was beaten 4-3 by the Columbus Crew in the MLS Eastern Conference finals. Pirlo came on in the 90th minute of the match and was greeted with a showering of affection from fans at Yankee Stadium. While Pirlo played his final seasons in the United States, he made his name by helping AC Milan and Juventus win a combined six Serie A titles, two Champions Leagues with Milan and the above all the 2006 World Cup with Italy. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File) Andrew Medichini

But will my somewhat spiteful satisfaction prove premature? After all, this has been the qualifying campaign of giant killers, with the Azzurri joining the likes of 2010 runners-up Netherlands, 2016 Confederations Cup runners-up Chile, African giants Ivory Coast and Cameroon, and USA on the sidelines.

It's an ominous trend facing the Asian Cup champions Australia, who should by rights dominate Honduras tonight at ANZ Stadium, judging by how well they handled their swampy conditions last week Friday (Saturday morning our time).

But the Italy exit is exactly why the World Cup must remain a 32-team format, and not the 48 proposed by FIFA for 2026.

It took decades of tinkering until FIFA achieved the optimal mix at France in 1998. Since then the format has worked a treat. Most groups are tough, some are brutal and there are still enough minnows in the mix to allow for the occasional fairytale.

As we have just seen, the possibility of big teams missing out and minnows like Iceland, Egypt, Panama and either Peru or New Zealand getting in generates interest months ahead of the tournament proper.

At risk is the prestige of simply being at the World Cup.

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Topics:  fifa world cup 2018 socceroos world cup world cup qualifiers



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