Euro 2020 winners Italy were held to a goalless draw at Northern Ireland. That meant the Azzurri squandered the chance to gain automatic qualification for the quadrennial tournament, ceding top place in the group to Switzerland.
The Azzurri have won just two of the seven matches they’ve played after their triumphant Euro 2020 campaign. One of the things that make football an interesting sport is that results are usually unpredictable and a team’s pedigree seldom counts for anything. Italy learnt that the hard way in Belfast on Monday night.
Roberto Mancini’s side has been woefully out of form, and their struggles have impacted their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. Draws against Bulgaria and Switzerland set off warning bells. That run continued away at Northern Ireland, where the Azzurri failed to get a win to give themselves a chance of going through.
Azzurri frustrated in Belfast
The Azzurri went into Sunday’s game against Northern Ireland knowing that a win would see them top Group C. However, they just could not get the job done. Roberto Mancini’s side was frustrated by the resolute hosts as they left Belfast with a feeling of disappointment rather than the respite they hoped for.
Despite dominating possession, Italy were just not at the level required to eke out a win on the night. The attacking trio of Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Berardi wasn’t enterprising enough either.
Northern Ireland may have had nothing at stake. But they were gallant in front of their home fans, and their resilience eventually cost Italy an automatic qualification berth at the World Cup next year.
Italy drop to playoffs
Unfortunately for Italy, while they were drawing in Belfast, their main group rivals Switzerland were routing Bulgaria in Lucerne.
The Swiss won 4-0 to usurp Mancini’s side and book their ticket to Qatar. As European champions, very few expected Italy to drop to the playoffs. But they’ve simply not been good enough in the qualifying campaign, despite not losing any of their eight games.
“We can’t do anything about it now; we have this game in March and will try to give our best,” Mancini said after the game, as quoted by Goal.
The Italy manager rued his side’s inability to break open deep-defending teams like Northern Ireland. The Azzurri would have sealed their passage to Qatar long before this game had Jorginho converted one of his two penalties against Switzerland.
“At the moment, we are struggling to score goals, despite dominating possession and the initiative. Northern Ireland put everyone in defence, and we struggle to break sides like that down.
“It’s a pity, because we should’ve sealed the group long before it came to this. We just need to rediscover what characterised us up until today. We had two missed penalties in the decisive matches, so that shows we had the chances to win.”
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Italy failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, so they can’t afford to miss out on the next edition in Qatar. They’ll have to bring their A-game against whichever opponent they meet in the playoffs in March.