Vito Doria Date: 2nd January 2019 at 3:09pm
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For admirers and supporters of Italian football, particularly the Italian national team, 2018 was a year of disappointment and one that many will probably want to forget.

Almost devoid of joyful moments, this has been a time in which the Azzurri players had to watch the World Cup from home after they failed to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1958.

Before delving into what made this year forgettable for Italy fans, it is worth mentioning the moment that laid the foundations for a morbid 2018. The Italians finished second to Spain in Group G of World Cup qualifying so they had to play Sweden in November 2017 but the Swedes emerged victorious by winning 1-0 on aggregate.

As a result of that ignominious elimination, coach Giampiero Ventura was sacked and then Carlo Tavecchio resigned as FIGC president soon after.

Italy Under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio was made interim coach in February this year before Roberto Mancini was appointed permanently in May and Roberto Fabbricini lead a commission appointed by CONI (the Italian National Olympic Committee) to take charge of the Italian federation until Gabriele Gravina was elected as president in October.

Two friendlies were played in the United Kingdom in March but Di Biagio was not able to guide the team to victory in either; losing 2-0 to Argentina in Manchester and drawing 1-1 with England at Wembley. The defeat against the Albiceleste was also the final time legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon played for Italy, retiring with 176 caps.

Mancini took charge in May and he introduced new players to the squad as well as taking the decision to bring back Mario Balotelli and Domenico Criscito from the international wilderness.

The former Zenit St. Petersburg tactician commenced his international career with a 2-1 victory against Saudi Arabia in late May but a 3-1 defeat to France and a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands clearly indicated that there was much work to be done.

Despite failing to qualify for the World Cup, Italy were still placed in League A of the inaugural UEFA Nations League, and the Italians were drawn in Group 3 with Poland and Portugal but initial results were bleak.

The Azzurri drew 1-1 in Bologna against the Poles and then Mancini fielded an experimental side in the 1-0 defeat away to the Portuguese. After that, the Italian coach decided to start Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne as a false nine, made Federico Chiesa a certain starter on the wings, and field a team with three creative midfielders in Marco Verratti, Jorginho, and Nicolo Barella.

Although there were significant improvements in Italy’s possession play, goals remained at a premium as they drew 1-1 against Ukraine in a friendly in October, and then registered a 1-0 away victory against Poland and a 0-0 draw against Portugal in their remaining two Nations League fixtures before finishing 2018 with a 1-0 win over the USA in a friendly in Belgium.

Underwhelming as the results may be, the Azzurri are being revolutionised and different players have been given new international experiences. Defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are some of the few veterans remaining in the squad but the new generation of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Barella, and Chiesa are starting to establish themselves while the likes of Insigne and Jorginho have been granted more playing time.

There have been some obscure selections in his squads as well such as MLS-based forward Sebastian Giovinco, Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo prior to making his Giallorossi debut, and Italo-German winger Vincenzo Grifo, who has never played club football on the Italian peninsula.

It remains to be seen if 2019 will provide greater signs of hope and if Mancini is capable of creating a strong Italy squad but 2018 will be forever remembered as the annus horribilis of the Azzurri.