MILAN • Italy must not panic as they bid to avoid missing a World Cup for the first time in 60 years, goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon said after a 1-0 play-off defeat in Sweden pushed them to the brink of disaster.
Buffon - bidding to reach a record sixth World Cup Finals - is one of the last survivors of Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning team still turning out for the national team.
But the loss in Stockholm leaves Italy with all to play for in today's second leg in Milan to avoid failing to qualify for the Finals for the first time since the 1958 tournament, incidentally hosted by Sweden.
"We need to be as clear-headed as possible to go to the World Cup," Buffon, 39, told TMW Radio. "We know we've lost, but we have another 90 minutes to overcome this complicated situation.
"The first rule is not to cry over it. I expect a full San Siro to carry this team through, I don't want to think it's the game of life, but I'm convinced that with the help of the public we will do it.
"We must be confident on Monday, otherwise we have already lost."
Gian Piero Ventura's side were already under pressure going into the first leg after a disappointing end to their Group G campaign that featured a 3-0 loss in Spain and a 1-1 home draw with Macedonia.
TWELFTH MAN IN MILAN
I expect a full San Siro to carry this team through, I don't want to think it's the game of life, but I'm convinced that with the help of the public we will do it.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON, Italy skipper, believes his side can turn the tables on Sweden.
The coach's tactics are also under the spotlight along with Italy's failure to bring in sufficient new blood over the past decade.
Buffon is one of three 2006 World Cup champions - the others are Daniele De Rossi, 34, and 36-year-old defender Andrea Barzagli - still in the team.
Ventura failed to find room in his 3-5-2 starting formation for in-form Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne as Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile struggled to make headway up front. There was more bad news as Marco Verratti is banned for the second leg after the Paris Saint-Germain playmaker was booked against Sweden, his third yellow card in this qualifying campaign.
After Italy won the World Cup under Marcello Lippi, they had hoped to build on their experience, talent and skill for years to come.
But despite a run to the Euro 2012 final and Antonio Conte's men reaching the quarter-finals of last year's European Championship with credible wins over Spain and Belgium, they have failed to deliver consistently on the big stage.
Sweden are hopeful the Azzurri will not even get the chance to compete in next year's showpiece tournament.
Midfielder Albin Ekdal told TMW Radio: "The Azzurri didn't create very much against us and to be honest I expected Italy to be stronger, but everything could change on Monday. Our opponents will play with more aggression, but we are solid in defence."
Striker Marcus Berg, who drew the foul that led to Verratti's yellow card, expects to face a rough Italian side in the second leg.
"They were trying to get me sent off from the beginning," the 31-year-old said of the first leg.
"The Italians kept falling down for everything, trying to get me red-carded, and they kept talking at the referee. They did a lot of play-acting, but the fact is, they're not very good actors.
"I knew there would be a war and it will be a damn war on Monday."
ITALY V SWEDEN
Singtel TV Ch 109, tomorrow, 3.35am