Italians in the Greater Toronto Area will likely be in hiding or hibernation come next summer as Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

For those who do not remember this being mentioned over twenty times already, the Azzurri will not be participating in the tournament for the first time since 1958.

This is by far one of the worst feelings because, for Italians, soccer is something that is, “embedded in their culture,” said Woodbridge, Ont. student Cesare Di Pietro. Besides a really good plate of pasta, soccer is that one thing that really sends Italians into a frenzy.

I would know, because I personally have no problem coming up with any excuse to go and celebrate any Italian soccer achievement.

For me, soccer is much more than just a sport or a hobby – it is a way of life. Being raised by a family full of soccer fans, I caught on quick to the idea that the Azzurri were very important and that the FIFA World Cup meant that all eyes were on the television.

Having this soccer experience taken away, even temporarily, is one of the most disappointing things that has ever happened to me. Keeping this in mind, the second hardest part is having to endure the relentless teasing and joking that come with it.

For someone who takes Italian soccer as seriously as I do, there is honestly nothing more embarrassing in the entire world than hearing, “What happened to Italy?” or, “Italy sucks.”

The joking is definitely something we all should have seen coming, but the wounds were still a little too fresh. It drives me crazy when people bring up the word Italy and give me that subtle (yet intentional) smirk.

Many fans were not around for the first big catastrophe back in 1958 when, for the first time ever,  Italy failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. My grandfather, Pasquale Cesario, lived through it. He could not remember the exact details of that experience, but he holds this year’s result in the same light as the failure of 1958.

My grandfather always has an opinion on the Italian soccer team, but he looked utterly shocked and upset, shrugging his shoulders to the idea of Italy not being in the FIFA World Cup for the second time.

“The players Italy had on the team were not the right ones, they needed more youth and the coach was not good,” he said. “I don’t even remember the last time they did not make it.” With that failure being so long ago, the one unique thing that I realized was that both of us had this tragedy happen at the age of 20.

With this being considered one of the most tragic events in Italian soccer history, I gathered the reactions of several other Italian soccer fans. Cosimo Barranca, a client advisor from Vaughan, Ont. said, “I curled up in my bed after the draw against Sweden, sat in disbelief for about one hour doing absolutely nothing – feeling numb, anxious, nervous, depressed and stupefied all at the same time.”

Francesco Giordano, a student from Etobicoke, Ont. said, “I asked myself, how I am going to watch the World Cup? It is depressing to think what could have been and how low Italy has sunk since 2006.”

It is actually heartbreaking to look back at the journey from the 2006 championship to now. The team qualified for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, but crashed and burned in the group stage both years. Those two performances surely tested the patience of many Italians, but to be honest, I think that those outings are looking that much better now that this collapse just happened.

This failure provided an unfamiliar shock to Italian soccer fans, but for some, it was just a disaster that was waiting to happen. Matteo Pasculli, a product manager from Maple, Ont. said, “I’m not surprised, they didn’t look strong during the qualification. However, based on the players they have on their roster, they should have had no problem making the World Cup.”

“It’s been years that the coaching staff has been misusing talent,” said Jack Onorati, student from Richmond Hill, Ont. “It was just a matter of time until something more drastic happened.”

The economic and social impact this letdown will cause the Greater Toronto Area is another reason this has been hitting fans hard. I asked some other fans what would happen to the two iconic celebration spots of Market Lane Shopping Centre in Woodbridge, Ont. and St. Clair Avenue in Toronto come next June. Security guard Anthony Bava, from Vaughan, Ont. said, “The area won’t be the same this World Cup […] Market Lane will be a sad place.”

“It means less friends and family get-togethers to watch games, less alcohol and less groceries for parties,” said Vaughan, Ont. wellness coach Mauro Orrico.

Giuseppe D’Alessandro, a student from Vaughan, Ont. said, “Market Lane and St. Clair are ceremonial celebration spots for all Italian soccer fans and will be completely empty throughout the 2018 World Cup.”

So, considering no one will be going to Market Lane Shopping Centre for any horn-honking or cheering in support of Italy, I had the audacity to ask fans who they would cheer for in Russia at the FIFA World Cup next year. The general consensus was that the soccer games would be watched out of the pure enjoyment of the game, with few mentioning a secondary or underdog team in mind.

“Italy is my number one and I would never cheer for another team just because Italy didn’t qualify”, said Vaughan, Ont. singer and songwriter Matthew Giordano. He went on to say:

 

“We’ll just have to wait until 2020 for Italian soccer to matter again.”

Pasquale Cesario Jr., a chef from Kleinburg Village, Ont. said, “I just find it weird to cheer for another team. Sure, I may want to see some underdogs win and hope that since Italy isn’t in the tournament that a new country wins the World Cup.”

The best reaction of all was when I asked my grandfather if he would cheer for any other country, or if he wanted a new jersey to wear. He glared at me, ever so boldly, straight in the eye, and answered with a resounding, “No way!”