Italy’s 3-0 defeat in Spain was their first loss in either FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championship qualifying since September 2006, a run of 56 matches over almost exactly 11 years.
On 6 September 2006, two Sidney Govou goals and one by Thierry Henry gave France sweet revenge for their World Cup final loss to the Azzurri a couple of months before. Italy did not taste qualifying defeat again until their loss tonight in Madrid.
Roberto Donadoni had replaced Marcello Lippi as Azzurri coach after the 2006 World Cup triumph and despite losing their second qualifier to their Berlin final victims France, the former AC Milan midfielder would lead Italy to UEFA EURO 2008 with nine victories and a draw in the ensuing ten games.
Marcello Lippi’s subsequent second spell in charge was not as successful as the first, with the Italians surprisingly failing to progress from the group stage at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – having reached the tournament with seven wins and three draws during qualification.
Cesare Prandelli continued Italy’s impressive sequence with eight victories and two draws en route to UEFA EURO 2012, where his team made the final, followed by six wins and four draws on the way to another disappointing World Cup group stage exit in Brazil.
Then came Antonio Conte and Italy prolonged their streak with seven victories and three draws in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2016. The Azzurri were already assured of their berth when they came from behind to beat Norway 2-1 in their last group match.
“We are sorry for Norway who will have to play the play-offs now, but we really wanted to finish this group unbeaten,” the current Chelsea boss said at the time.
The run under new coach Gian Piero Ventura continued for the first six games of 2018 World Cup qualifying, despite needing a late equaliser to draw 1-1 at home to Spain in October then striking twice late on to beat FYR Macedonia 3-2 three days later.
Now that run is over but Spain’s continues: they have stretched their unbeaten streak in World Cup qualifiers to 60 games, having not been defeated in such a fixture since a 1-0 reverse in Denmark in November 1993 (though they have lost UEFA EURO qualifiers more recently).
The key numbers in Italy’s run
Previous qualifying loss: 1-3 v France, 6 September 2006
Subsequent UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying results: W9 D1
2010 World Cup qualifying results: W7 D3
UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying results: W8 D2
2014 World Cup qualifying results: W6 D4
UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying results: W7 D3
2018 World Cup qualifying results: W5 D1
The 56-match unbeaten run: W42 D14