Four-time champions Italy failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after a play-off defeat against Sweden.
It means the Azzurri will not be present in the competition for only the second time in their history having declined to play at the inaugural tournament in 1930.
Midfielder Jakob Johansson’s deflected strike in the first leg was the difference as the second leg at Milan’s San Siro stadium ended goalless.
Sweden sat back on their advantage and, despite the hosts enjoying 76% possession, they failed to find the breakthrough – Italy’s best chance saw goalkeeper Robin Olsen palm away substitute Stephan El Shaarawy’s thumping late volley.
Striker Ciro Immobile missed a number of chances and his low effort in the first half was cleared off the line by centre-back Andreas Granqvist.
The result sees Jan Andersson’s Sweden side reach the World Cup for the first time since 2006, when they were in the same group as England.
Sweden reduce Italy to tears
While Italy dominated the second leg and had 20 shots at goal, their exertions radiated a growing sense of desperation.
Giampiero Ventura’s side were unable to carve open a resolute Swedish defence which sat deep and often had a line of six defenders camped in their box, heading away each cross and set-piece into the box.
In all, the Swedes made a total of 56 clearances between them, plus 19 interceptions.
Both sides could have been awarded penalties: first Ludwig Augustinsson brought down Marco Parolo with a clumsy challenge while Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian and Juventus veteran Andrea Barzagli were fortunate to escape with handballs for Italy.
Lazio striker Immobile, who has 14 club goals this season, hit the side-netting from a tight angle early on and struck a first-time shot wide from close range in the second half.
At the other end, Sweden keeper Olsen saved well from midfielders Jorginho and Alessandro Florenzi, who also clipped an acrobatic volley narrowly wide.
Many of the Italy players fell to the ground at the full-time whistle, with strikers Andrea Belotti and Immobile reduced to tears, as the Swedes ran off to enthusiastically celebrate their qualification for next summer’s tournament in Russia.
End of an era as Buffon bows out
Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport described the loss as akin to the “apocalypse” in their headline for the match report.
Captain Gianluigi Buffon was earning his 175th cap for Italy and the 39-year-old goalkeeper confirmed it was his last international appearance, having announced his decision to retire from football at the end of the season.
AC Milan’s highly-rated 18-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma was on the bench and the teenager, who already has four caps, is in line to take over the number one shirt for the next campaign – qualifying for the 2020 European Championship.
World Cup winner Buffon, who was also tearful at the final whistle, said: “I am not sorry for myself but all of Italian football. We failed at something which also means something on a social level.”
It may also be the end for coach Ventura. The 69-year-old manager reportedly refused to give an interview to television after the match.
He received much criticism for his decision to play a 4-2-4 formation against Spain, when his side were heavily beaten 3-0, and will once again be asked questions why he refused to play Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne, who has six goals already this season for his club side.
Ventura was given a new contract until 2020 only in August, but the Italian football association could now turn to former AC Milan and Juventus manager Carlo Ancelotti who is available after leaving German champions Bayern Munich.
Granqvist a cut above the rest
Former Wigan defender Granqvist, who was man of the match in the first leg, put in another colossal performance at the back for Sweden.
The 32-year-old said: “For my part, this is the biggest thing that has happened to me and for those of us that are older this is probably the last chance to play at a World Cup so to succeed in those circumstances is an unbelievable joy.”
Shortly after the match, skipper Granqvist was seen sporting a new haircut because of a promise made earlier in the qualifying campaign.
He added: “I said to the lads in the dressing room that if we got to the World Cup they could shave it off. I thought they had forgotten it, but John Guidetti and Victor Lindelof shaved it off straight away,”