MILAN (Reuters) - Former playmaker Andrea Pirlo joined the criticism after Italy’s 1-0 defeat to Sweden on Friday left the four-times champions on the brink of missing out on the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.
Italy, whose last failure to qualify for the finals was in 1958, have to beat Sweden by two goals in the return leg on Monday in Milan to avoid what the head of the federation Carlo Tavecchio has dubbed the ‘Apocalypse’.
But their toothless performance on Friday - the latest in a series of lacklustre displays - has done nothing to reassure their supporters that Gian Piero Ventura’s side is up to the task.
Gazzetta dello Sport described their display in Sweden as ‘poor and confused’ and Tuttosport said ‘enough of excuses, now we have to avoid a historic embarrassment’.
“Italy looked like a scared team that was playing for a 0-0 draw. In Europe, that is not enough,” Pirlo told Sky Sport Italia.
The 38-year-old, who confirmed his retirement on Monday, also had little sympathy for Ventura’s complaints about the referee.
”It’s a red herring,“ he said. ”Playing in Europe is not like in Italy, where you get a free kick for even the slightest contact.
“In these matches you need to be above all that and give 100 percent; it’s in these matches that you see the real players.”
“It will be tough for Ventura to find the right words to say to the group,” added Pirlo, who was filmed watching the game on a sofa with a glass of wine in his hand and stroking his beard.
“There will be two very intense days, full of pressure and the coach must have in mind the line-up that he is going to field.”
Pirlo added that it was no good hoping that home advantage would sway the tie Italy’s way.
“San Siro will make its presence felt but I’ve never seen a goal scored from the stands,” he said.
Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Sudipto Ganguly