The first third of the Serie A season will be complete at the end of this weekend. The crushing World Cup Qualifying Playoff defeat of the Italian national team at the hands of Sweden minus Zlatan, is nothing but as the telegraph.co.uk writer Nick Squires put it: ‘Apocalyptic’. There was an air of defeat ever-present throughout the city today following Monday nights apathetic performance. But for everyone who is a fan of the Serie A, when the sting of the Azzurri not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup wears off, the league just got a whole lot more interesting.
With more than half (16/30) of the current national team roster playing for the top 5 teams in the table, there will most certainly be a refocus of peoples attention on this years Serie A trophy. Personally, I always wondered how an upcoming world cup affected the potential members of a national side. There has to be some likelihood that although you want to believe and witness everyone playing to their absolute limit as a player, that in the back of someone’s mind, a chance to play in World Cup, for many, is a once in a lifetime experience. Could that doubt lead to a player holding back just a little?
Will the fact that all of these players no longer have that possibility create some maximum speed Serie A for the remainder of the season? Will players and coaches find themselves willing to take risks and maybe open up the game a little more? Serie A as a league is usually described as slow by most fans of other leagues. But the league also has arguably some of the best and most experienced talent (DeRossi, Buffon), alongside a burgeoning group of young superstars (Mertens, Icardi, Dybala). Already this season, as of Giornata 12, the Serie A as a whole has outscored last years first 12 games by almost 50 goals (345-297). And that is with four teams who still have a game in hand this season.
Italy not qualifying for the world cup is awful for everyone involved. The sport, the fans, the players, but mostly for the 2018 World Cup. Because what kind of world cup is it without Italy? Without Italians representing their pride and joy for their heritage and team, the entire tournament, no matter the result. One can only hope that this lights a fire under the players who will be around for the 2022 team, all of whom certainly don’t want this taste in their mouths again.
The combination of these factors finds fans of Serie A about to witness something that has never happened before. 21st-century Italian professional soccer in the Series A, at the highest level possible for every player, for the rest of the season. No one will be holding back, wondering if they should risk a hard challenge or a contested header. Serie A is about to become an exciting goal scoring machine that will provide some of the best soccer to watch over the next 6 months. Because when May rolls around and someone claims the 2017/2018 Scudetto, there is no Russia, there is no Azzurri for 2018 anymore. And it isn’t the end of the world.