A World Cup without four-time winners Italy? Virtually unheard of. Only Brazil have won more World Cups than the Azzurri.
However, a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of their play-off game in Stockholm leaves Gian Piero Ventura’s side sweating on not even qualifying for the biggest show in football.
Jakob Johansson’s deflected shot caught Gianluigi Buffon out and proved to be enough to give Sweden a slender advantage over their illustrious opponents ahead of the second leg on Monday at the San Siro in Milan.
Italy came closest when Manchester United wing-back Matteo Darmian struck the post but they could not find an away goal despite the in-from Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti leading the line.
It is do or die for the Italians in the return leg. In fact, the last time the Italians failed to qualify for a World Cup was all the way back in 1958. Ironically, the tournament took place in Sweden.
Almost 60 years ago, Northern Ireland ensured Italy would miss out on a place in Sweden as they inflicted a surprise 2-1 defeat on the European giants in Belfast.
Goals by Jimmy McIlroy and Wilbur Cush were enough for the Northern Irish to qualify at the expense of their opponents in the group stages. This is the only time so far that Italy have failed to make a World Cup.
World Cup aristocrats Brazil triumphed in 1958 by defeating hosts Sweden 5-2 in the final.
This edition of the tournament is most known for announcing the talent of 17-year-old Pele on to the scene.
The young star lit up the knock-out stages with six goals including a hat-trick in the semi-final against France and a brace in the final. Pele since has become firmly part of World Cup folklore.
Since Italy’s last World Cup win in 2006, their performances at the tournament in 2010 and 2014 have been disastrous.
In 2010, they finished bottom of a group with Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand while they also got dumped out of the group stage in 2014.
They were hammered in their proud footballing home country as a result.
Ventura has struggled to replace Antonio Conte and has produced some underwhelming performances in qualification such as a 3-0 hiding at the hands of Spain and a 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia.
The pressure is very much on to turn around that 1-0 deficit on Monday.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena
Check out the latest episode of The Mixer as we look ahead to Ireland’s crucial World Cup play-off with Denmark.