Rome: Italy midfielder Jorginho blazed a late penalty over the bar as his side were held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland in their Group C World Cup qualifier at the Stadio Olimpico last night, leaving both sides with a chance of automatic qualification for Qatar.
With 15 points from seven games and the winners going through to the finals, Italy top the group on goal difference ahead of the Swiss, with Northern Ireland third on eight points. Italy are away to Northern Ireland in their final qualifier on Monday, while the Swiss host fourth-placed Bulgaria.
“Against Northern Ireland we start with an advantage, and it’s not a small one,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said.
Switzerland took an early lead when Noah Okafor, making his first start for the national team, teed up full back Silvan Widmer to fire a piledriver into the back of the net, shocking the home crowd in the 11th minute.
Okafor almost added a second four minutes later before Nicolo Barella saw a glorious chance to equalise saved by Swiss keeper Yann Sommer.
Italy struck back after the half-hour mark through a cleverly-worked free kick from Lorenzo Insigne that Giovanni Di Lorenzo nipped in ahead of Sommer to head home.
The home side piled on the pressure in the second half, dominating possession but failing to get many decent efforts on target as the Swiss defended doggedly.
Emerson and Federico Chiesa both came close with similar efforts during a frenetic second half, cutting in from the left before firing their shots over.
Italy were given another golden opportunity in the final minute of normal time as a VAR review led to a penalty awarded for a foul on Domenico Berardi by Ulisses Garcia, but Jorginho blasted the ball over the bar as the Swiss escaped with a draw.
Focus on next game
“Jorginho felt like taking it (the penalty) and it’s right that he did so, he’s one of the penalty takers on our team... it’s a shame we didn’t score in the second half,” Mancini said, but it would seem his players have already put the game behind them.
“Now we have to focus on the game on Monday and give everything to win - Jorginho is a great champion and our penalty specialist, we will help him forget about this moment,” Di Lorenzo said.
“We have two days to prepare and we absolutely must take the victory home from Northern Ireland,” he added.