Just months after celebrating their first European championship in 53 years, Azzurri fans around the world are beginning to fear for the worse. Italy will have to get through the qualifying playoffs if they want to secure their spot in Qatar next November.
Italy was on the verge of winning Group C on goal difference to Switzerland but knew that they needed to match the Swiss’ result against Bulgaria to directly qualify for next year’s world cup. The Swiss showed no mercy to their opponents as they won 4-0 victory over and passed Italy on the standings to finish as Group C winners on the last matchday.
Roberto Mancini’s side has been underwhelming since winning Euro 2020. In their last five World Cup qualifying matches, the Azzurri have only won once.
“I think we are one of the best teams in Europe, but we need to recover our (injured) players for the play-offs – I’m sure we will win the next two games,” said Mancini.
“I’m disappointed because we didn’t find a goal in the first half. We had a lot of good possession but it’s difficult against Northern Ireland. They play with all their players behind the ball, they are strong and tall. If you don’t score fast it’s difficult.”
Mancini believes that his team’s failure to top the group was not entirely from their stalemate with Northern Ireland but rather their previous 1-1 draw with Switzerland where Chelsea midfielder Jorginho sent a last-minute penalty over the crossbar.
Mancini added: “We played a good game but my opinion is that this group should have finished last Friday because we had a penalty to win the game in the last minutes.”
“We knew that Switzerland had a lot of chances to win their game (against Bulgaria). Probably we didn’t expect 4-0, but this doesn’t change the situation because we didn’t score.”
Ironically, Italy did not qualify for the 1958 World Cup after losing to Northern Ireland at Windsor Park. They have a second chance this time as the Azzurri will hope to avoid missing out on consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.
Back in November 2017, Sweden broke the hearts of Italian football supporters as their side defeated the Azzurri 1-0 in aggregate to book their place in the 2018 World Cup, where they reached the round of 16.
Italy will hope to avoid the same fate and they will find out who their opposition will be in next March’s playoffs on November 26th.