Italy’s players have expressed their dismay as the reigning European champions failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.
The four-time champions, who overcame England at Wembley last summer to claim a spectacular second continental title, were overwhelming favorites to beat North Macedonia on home soil in Palermo on Wednesday night and go to the Pathway C play-off final.
Victory at the Stadio Renzo Barbera would have set up a blockbuster battle with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal – who beat Turkey in Porto – for a spot in Qatar this winter, but Italy were startled after a sloppy display, as Aleksandar Trajkovski scored a 92nd-minute winner to secure a huge upset.
After such a humiliating defeat, manager Roberto Mancini refused to be drawn on his future, despite the fact that the Azzurri’s wait for another World Cup knockout match would now be at least 20 years, dating back to their final triumph against France in Berlin in 2006.
Italy’s previous World Cup encounter was against Uruguay in Natal in 2014, when they were knocked out of the group stage together with England, before failing to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia after another play-off defeat to Sweden.
Mancini remarked after the stunning loss to North Macedonia, “It’s hard to say something right now, I don’t know what to say.” “Last summer was the most wonderful delight, and now comes the most letdown.” It’s difficult to think of anything else; I’m sad for the boys; I love them far more tonight than I did in July.
“I am the coach, and I am the first one to be held accountable; the lads are not.” They have a bright future ahead of them, and they are key players for the national team’s future. “We didn’t deserve to lose.”
Italy’s 115-cap defensive mainstay Giorgio Chiellini, who came on late in the game, claimed the team had been “destroyed and shattered” by their failure to advance.