Italy have failed yet again.
European champions they might be, but, for the second consecutive time the Azzurri has missed out on the World Cup after losing to plucky North Macedonia in the play-off last night.
The Italians will not be at Qatar 2022 after also failing to make it to Russia 2018. This means it will be at least 12 years between appearances for them on the world’s biggest stage. That is far too long for the 4 time winners. Incredibly, their last knockout game at a World Cup was in 2006, when they won the competition. It is a massive disappointment for a team that only lost its extraordinary 37-game unbeaten run in October.
They had 32 attempts at goal but Macedonia won 1-0 to set up a clash against Portugal and the winner will book their spots for the finals which kick off in November.
Given the boot
It will be odd to not have Italy in the tournament, again. The Euro 2020 winners struggled in their group and finished as runners-up to Switzerland. They won four and drew four and failed to automatically qualify before being given the boot in the most dramatic of fashions by conceding a 92nd minute goal against the minnows.
What must be going through Italy coach Roberto Mancini’s head right now? Just eight months ago he guided his nation to glory with victory over England at Wembley, and deservedly so. Italy were fantastic. They had totally changed their style of play and instead of sitting deep and hitting on the counter and grinding out results they played on the front foot and attacked teams at will.
It has been an incredible turnaround of fortunes for them. In spite of the new approach which brought success and a new crop of youngsters hungry to win they have had a nightmare in the qualifiers.
The former Man City boss might be considering other options because even in spite of this massive disappointment he remains an in-demand manager.
A return to the Premier League cannot be ruled out, but if he were to take up the Man Utd job in the summer, then that would be a sensational story. Switching from Blue to Red would be remarkable but he has the mental strength to deal with the pressure such a move would bring. Loved by the City fans for all the success he brought them while in charge, he has a thick skin to cope with the jibes they would throw at him if he were to do the unthinkable.
Last night, the Italians were let down by several of their top stars most notably Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile neither of which could raise their performances for such a big game. They seemed hesitant and sluggish while Nicolo Barella wasted a glorious chance in a first half that saw them attempt 16 shots.
North Macedonia most certainly rode their luck. But they dug deep and are just 90 minutes away from reaching a second consecutive tournament.
It is a hardly believable prospect for a country that was formed only in 1991. Portugal is up next for them on Tuesday and they will go into that clash full of belief and confidence. Don’t forget – they already beat Germany 2-1 almost a year ago before upsetting Italy last night. Another huge shock result may be on the cards next week…