European champions Italy will not play in the 2022 World Cup after being stunned by North Macedonia in their play-off in Palermo on Thursday.
Italy have failed to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup, ensuring the Azzurri will endure at least 12 years between appearances at football’s showpiece event.
Italy were “destroyed and crushed” after again missing out on the World Cup finals n following a 1-0 defeat at home by North Macedonia in Thursday’s playoff semi-final, defender Giorgio Chiellini said after the match.
Aleksandar Trajkovski of North Macedonia picked up the loose ball in the 92nd minute, drove forward and fired a sensational winner from outside the area. The goal sparked wild celebrations on the North Macedonia bench, while Italy’s players and coaching staff dropped to their knees in front of their home fans.
It is just eight months since Roberto Mancini’s side celebrated one of their greatest triumphs – beating England at Wembley to win Euro 2020 having been considered outsiders going into the tournament.
But they have now paid the price for a disjointed – if previously unbeaten – World Cup qualification campaign during which they finished runners-up to Switzerland in their group, winning four and drawing four of their eight matches.
“I am proud of a team that has given everything. It is clear that we are destroyed and crushed. A great void will remain within us,” Chiellini, who replaced Gianluca Mancini in the 90th minute was quoted as saying by timeslive.co.za.
“There is a great disappointment. Today we played a good game but we couldn’t score. From September to today we have made mistakes and paid for them.”
Midfielder Marco Verratti said North Macedonia’s goal in added time was a “real nightmare”.
“This group had a great chance at the World Cup. We came from the unbeaten record so it is difficult to accept what happened tonight,” Verratti said.
“We all know we have given everything. Surely it is time to ask ourselves some questions.
Four-time World Cup winners Italy, who are ranked sixth in the world, will watch events in Qatar in November and December from afar.