Italy will miss out on back-to-back World Cups for the first time in its history, having failed to qualify for the competition in 2018.
Italy’s dream of securing a World Cup spot has gone crashing after a shocking home defeat to North Macedonia in the playoffs. Aleksandar Trajkovski scored the winner in injury time to break Italian hearts and round off a perfect defensive display from the Macedonians.
Roberto Mancini’s side beat England in July to crown themselves European Champions but just after seven months, they are out of World Cup qualification.
Mancini had brought back the glory days of Italian football after all those years of failure on the international stage. Heading into this game, Italy had two major absentees as Federico Chiesa and Leonardo Spinazzola are recovering from their long-term injuries. Juventus’s experienced defensive pairing of Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci failed to keep the Macedonians at bay while the attack of Insigne, Immobile and Berardi failed to break down the Macedonian defence.
This loss will be more remarkable than the one against Sweden in the 2018 playoffs, given that they were crowned European Champions. Italy’s good run of form continued after the Euros as they broke and established a new record of a 37-game unbeaten run. However, four draws in their last five qualifiers saw them finish second to Switzerland and drop into the playoffs. The Italians had a total of 32 shots toward goal but a fine defensive display from the away side put the pressure back on the hosts leading to a late winner.
“Last summer was the most beautiful joy, now comes the greatest disappointment,” Mancini said. The Italians would have secured the spot in the World Cup only if they would have taken their chances against Switzerland. Both games against the Swiss resulted in a draw, with Jorginho failing to score a penalty in each game. “Stepping up there twice and not being able to help your team and your country is something that I will carry with me forever,” a tearful Jorginho said.
Since lifting the World Cup in 2006, Italy is yet to play a knockout game in the tournament and have won just one group stage game, against England in 2014.
The World Cup winners’ curse followed to haunt Italy in 2010 when they were knocked out of the tournament in the group stage after a draw against New Zealand and losing to Slovakia. Despite this loss, the Italian Football Federation president, Gabriele Gravina, has full faith in Mancini and wants him to continue.
Many reports suggest Fabio Cannavaro, the 2006 World Cup-winning captain, to be the leading candidate to take over if Mancini leaves. Marcello Lippi, who managed the winning side, is also linked with the role of technical director.
As for North Macedonia, they travel to Porto to face Portugal for the playoffs decider after the former Euro champions defeated Turkey 3-1 at the Estadio do Dragao.