sports 6 days ago

Italian soccer fans need something else to do next summer

The Associated Press — By DANIELLA MATAR - Associated Press

MILAN (AP) — While most soccer-loving fans around the globe will be glued to their TV sets next year during the World Cup, restaurants and cinemas around Italy might find themselves a little extra busy during the summer.

That's because Italy, the country that has won four World Cups and is almost always considered to be one of the favorites at major soccer events, failed to qualify for next year's tournament and won't be going to Russia.

"I'll still watch the World Cup when I can, but I'll give precedence to going out for dinner, drinks, to the cinema and going to the beach and playing sports outside," said Marco Angelelli, a 31-year-old shop assistant from Salento in southern Italy who now lives in Milan.

Soccer, called "calcio" in Italy, is by far the most popular sport in the country. Millions of kids play for fun, while the professionals have been at the top of the game for decades.

Italy won the World Cup in 1934, '38, '82 and 2006, and had qualified for every tournament since 1958. The country's national team also won the European Championship in 1968. At the club level, AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan have won dozens of titles between them, constantly making themselves contenders in the Champions League and other competitions.

But in June 2018, soccer will likely take a backseat for the average Italian as the often-deserted streets during matches stay alive with the usual hustle and bustle of summer fun.

"I'll watch if I'm with friends who are watching, but otherwise I won't really care," said Giancarlo Esposito, a retired architect from Milan. "If your team isn't in it, what sense is there?"

Italy was eliminated from World Cup contention on Monday. The team needed to beat Sweden to qualify, but was held to a 0-0 draw. That gave the Swedes a 1-0 win over the two matches of the playoff and a spot at the World Cup.

Will any Italians turn their attention to rooting for Sweden? Sure, according some fans.

"I'll certainly watch the World Cup because I love soccer, but it will be strange for me not seeing Italy, seeing as I have always followed them since I was really young," said Alessia Corsi, a 46-year-old housewife from Tuscany. "I will support who plays well and why not also Sweden, if we're out it's only our fault."

Angelelli also has a soft spot for Sweden, at least he does now.

"I hope Sweden has a top-level World Cup, given that they were at the level of stopping Italy from qualifying," Angelelli said. "If that doesn't happen, it would be even more of a disappointment."

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