Italy miss second straight World Cup after superb stoppage-time goal
Italy, European champions, will miss the World Cup. Again.
The unthinkable happened in Palermo on Thursday as the Azzurri were beaten 1-0 by North Macedonia following a last-minute goal from Aleksandar Trajkovski in the playoff semi-final.
Trajkovski scored with a shot from outside the box in what was North Macedonia’s only real chance after a completely dominating performance from Italy, who missed a number of chances and saved some several more by visiting keeper Stole Dimitrievsky.
But, just like five years ago, at the final whistle, the Italian players fell to the ground in disbelief and disappointment – with several of them in tears – as the opposition celebrated wildly.
Italy also failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after losing to Sweden in a home-and-away game the previous November. Missing back-to-back World Cups is an unprecedented low point for the four-time champion, especially just months after winning Euro 2020.
“I’m proud of my team-mates, we’re all destroyed and broken but we have to start again,” Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini said. “For the moment it’s difficult to talk about it, it will remain a big hole.”
“I hope the coach will stay because he is essential for this team. Now we have to win again, go to the Euros and in four years come back to this sacred World Cup.”
North Macedonia will face Portugal on Tuesday for a place in the tournament in Qatar after Cristiano Ronaldo’s side beat Turkey 3-1. Euro 2020 is the only major tournament for which North Macedonia has qualified.
Roberto Mancini was missing a number of players who helped Italy win the European Championship last summer and had to field a makeshift defense, but he was barely troubled by North Macedonia until the any end.
Italy got off to an aggressive start but struggled to find a way past the red jersey wall.
The Azzurri had a big chance in the 30th minute after a gruesome kick from the North Macedonia keeper left Domenico Berardi with an open goal, but he missed his shot and Dimitrievski came back in time to make the ‘stop.
Dimitrievski did better moments later when he fingertiped Ciro Immobile’s angled shot over the bar.
Italy closed in and Dimitrievski had to make another save, this time to trap Lorenzo Insigne’s shot around the post.
North Macedonia made their first attempt at half-time when Enis Bardi sent a ball past Trajkovski, but his effort went straight for Giangluigi Donnarumma.
Berardi nearly atoned for his first-half error early in the second period, but saw off a well-saved attempt by Dimitrievski and curled another just past the left post.
Italy besieged the goal but saw everything charged by North Macedonia.
And he was forced to pay for his profligacy in stoppage time as Trajkovski fired a low shot into the bottom left corner from 25 yards out, leaving Mancini looking stunned on the touchline.
Via The Associated Press
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