Four-time champions Italy go into the second leg of a playoff against Sweden on Monday facing an “apocalyptic” failure to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Italy need to overturn a 1-0 play-off first-leg defeat against Sweden in front of 74,000 fans in a white-hot atmosphere at the San Siro in Milan.
“It is certainly a moment of high tension, considering what is at stake and the sense of responsibility each of us must bear,” said Italy s veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
“It is an important game for the history of our national team.”
The 39-year-old Buffon, who will earn his 175th cap against Sweden, is targeting a record sixth World Cup in Russia.
But he could oversee the Azzurri s first elimination since Northern Ireland denied them a ticket to the finals held in Sweden nearly 60 years ago.
Former Italian goalkeeping great Dino Zoff — whose final game for the Azzurri was a 2-0 loss to Sweden in a 1984 European qualifying match — called for humility against the dangerous Swedes.
“Sweden have proved they are a good team above all up front in attack. We have to avoid being over-confident. But I think that Italy at the end of the day have all the character to make it,” said Zoff.