While the world has its eyes trained on Russia and the World Cup, spare a thought for the millions of die-hard Italians unable to watch their heroes on the biggest stage in sport. For only the second time in their history, the Azzurri aren’t competing at the World Cup following a nightmare qualifying campaign.

Here, UCFB student Riccardo Polacco, who studies BA (Hons) International Football Business, gives us his thoughts on his country’s absence from the competition and what the future holds for the Italian national team…

With the World Cup now underway in Russia, what is the atmosphere like in Italy where for only the second time ever the Azzurri won’t be competing in the tournament?

Being Italian, the first week of the World Cup has never been more strange. Normally, during “I Mondiali” there are flags outside on balconies, animated football discussions take place in bars and coffee shops and you breath in the event, but the feeling in Italy is pretty weird and unexpected. It seems that people have only now just realised Italy aren’t competing and the best way to approach the topic is by probably avoiding it. It is an open wound that will never totally close.

How is the tournament being covered by the Italian media with no national team taking part?

Normally big football competitions such as the Champions League and World Cup are events that are entirely covered by most of the national media. Although the competition is being covered, I believe it isn’t a coincidence to see that the main national football broadcaster, Sky Sport, doesn’t have the rights to show the World Cup.

Is there optimism that new manager Roberto Mancini can restore Italian pride ahead of Euro 2020 and the World Cup in 2022?

The appointment of Roberto Mancini has been mostly positive from the public and he is expected to inject a winning mentality in to the team, which is one of the main things that has been lacking in recent years. However, considering the current crop of players available to him, there is hope he will return us to international competitions. We need to get ready for 2020 and quickly bring a football loving country like Italy back to where it belongs.

Who are you looking forward to seeing in Russia over the next month – player and team – and who will you be cheering on in Italy’s absence?

It is unimaginable to see any other teams being supported during the World Cup in place of Italy, and we’re more likely to see a jinxing of rivals such as France and Germany (or Sweden!) in favour of smaller countries such as Panama or Iceland, who are well followed by Gazzetta dello Sport. It will be interesting to see how far Belgium and Portugal go – both teams have huge quality and potential but often lack experience in this competition. I’m looking forward to seeing Portugal’s Ricardo Quaresma play for his pure expression of technical skill and creativity… all the while trying to forget why Italy aren’t in Russia.