Over 75000 made their way to the San Siro, while millions more watched in pubs, bars or at home. Each watched with the ever-dawning realisation that the goal Italy needed ever so badly would never come.
They watched as one of the most storied footballing nations on earth huffed and puffed their way to a 0-0 draw against the men of Sweden. A draw that ultimately saw them miss out on a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
While millions of Italians vented their fury at the Azzurri, Gian Piero Ventura and anyone in their general vicinity, some 320km’s away in the town of Santarcangelo di Romagna something else was happening. Something when first viewed seems totally bonkers but on reflection has turned out to be an apt metaphor for Calcio.
With the rain coming down in sheets and the wind howling the players of Santarcangelo and Vicenza took to the field at the Stadio Valentino Mazzola. Standing in the centre circle the players swung their arms, skipped left and right and hopped up and down in a futile attempt to keep warm. Then through the night sky a short sharp blast of the whistle from the referee rippled out. The players each to a man waved towards the main stand before turning to the stand behind.
Who they were waving to is not really known as on this winter’s eve as few as 100 spectators (or as near as) had gathered to see this Serie C match. As for the visitors Vicenza when they turned to greet the travelling support what met them was two solitary individuals and a lone flag.
The game itself would prove to be an exciting if not technically brilliant affair littered with red cards and goals all the while taking place on a pitch that soon had more potholes in it then your standard Irish road. In the end the hosts would win 2-1, a massive boost in their battle at the bottom whilst also continuing Vicenza’s poor start to the season.
The result on the night however plays second fiddle to the fact as to why the match was even played at all. Surely it was folly to have a third division match on the very night (And basically the same time) that Italy faced a make or break game against the Swedes. Yet went ahead it did in front of a sparse attendance and miserable weather conditions.
But maybe it was the perfect night for the game, for you see as Italy waved goodbye to their World Cup dream, as fans trudged home full of despair and hurt. As TV pundits and journalists sought recriminations on those responsible for such a disaster, the men of Santarcangelo and Vicenza continued to play football. They showcased that the World will keep spinning and calcio will carry on. Even in what may seem a dark hour Serie C showed that football will always continue and with a mentality like that Italy will rise once more and take its place at the head of the game.