Italy will not be going to the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar after suffering a shock play off semi-final defeat to North Macedonia in Palermo last night.
The underdogs won 1-0 courtesy of a stoppage time goal from striker Aleksandar Trajkovski to ensure the showpiece event this winter would go ahead without the reigning European champions.
North Macedonia will now play Portugal, who beat Turkey 3-1 in their semi-final, in a one-off match for a place at Qatar.
As for Italy, they will be forced to watch on from home after the four-time winners missed out on the finals for the second time in a row.
Here is everything you need to know about Italy’s ill-fated qualifying campaign, their defeat to North Macedonia and what it means for the Azzurri:
Why didn’t Italy qualify for the World Cup finals?
The defeat to North Macedonia ended their chances of reaching the World Cup but they only found themselves in that match by merit of finishing second in their qualifying group.
The Italians were top seeds when the draw was made in December 2020 and were placed in Group C along with Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Lithuania and Bulgaria.
They won their first three matches at home to Northern Ireland and away to Lithuania and Bulgaria, before dropping points with a 1-1 draw against the latter in Florence.
Italy then drew their next match 0-0 away to Switzerland, before comfortably dispatching Lithuania 5-0 at home.
Roberto Mancini’s side actually went unbeaten through qualifying but drew their final two matches at home to Switzerland and away to Northern Ireland, which meant they finished two points behind the Swiss in the final group standings.
That meant they would have to go through the play-offs to qualify and were once again placed as top seeds for that draw by merit of their final group points tally.
They were drawn in Path C with North Macedonia, Portugal and Turkey, and would have to face the winners of the other semi-final in that path away from home if they got through.
North Macedonia shock world football
The way that the play off pots were drawn meant that it was guaranteed that either Italy or Portugal would not qualify for the World Cup finals in Qatar.
However, there is now the very real possibility that neither of the European heavyweights will be there after North Macedonia eliminated Italy in the semi-final stage.
Aleksandar Trajkovski scored the only goal of the game in Palermo, which came two minutes into stoppage time as the game looked set for extra time and potentially penalties.
The Balkan nation are now just one game away from finals but will have to keep superstar Cristiano Ronaldo quiet to get there.
What next for Italy after North Macedonia defeat?
Despite guiding his nation to the European Championship trophy last summer, it is unclear if Roberto Mancini will survive this crushing defeat.
Many will believe that Italy should have qualified outright through their group without the need for a play-off. Even if they did go undefeated in the group stage, is an unacceptable return for such a strong pool of players.
They will now play Turkey in a friendly match on Tuesday night and their next competitive fixtures will come in June when they are scheduled to face Germany, England and Hungary in the UEFA Nations League.
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