On Thursday night, international football royalty Italy suffered a shock 1-0 defeat in Palermo against North Macedonia in the World Cup play-off semi-final. The visitors scored a 92nd-minute winner to book their place in the play-off final against Portugal.
A lack of ruthlessness in front of goal
The fact that Italy had 32 efforts on goal in the game will make the defeat even more galling. However, the lack of ruthlessness seems to have been a theme throughout their qualification campaign.
The Azzurri have scored just once in their last three World Cup qualifiers, which is a startling fact when you consider the attacking players available to head coach Roberto Mancini. For example, Lazio’s Ciro Immobile.
The veteran forward has been highly-prolific once against this season for the Eagles, as he has been for over half a decade in Rome. However, things just never seem to click when he pulls on an Italy shirt.
Then there is the dynamic Sassuolo trio of Domenico Berardi, Gianluca Scamacca and Giacomo Raspadori. All three have been in top form this season in Serie A. Mancini even drafted in Cagliari’s prolific Joao Pedro for his debut. However, none of Italy’s attacking players could make that crucial breakthrough, North Macedonia seized their chance with Aleksandar Trajkovski scoring with their only really threatening advance on the home goal.
History has been made
The fact that Italy failed to qualify for World Cup 2018 was a massive shock. Now for the first time in the modern history of the competition, the Azzurri have failed to make two consecutive World Cups. Prior to World Cup 2018, Italy had not taken part in every tournament since 1958.
Italy will always be synonymous with the World Cup, as only Brazil have won the competition more often than the Azzurri. With Germany, Italy are the second most successful nation at winning the World Cup, having lifted the trophy on four occasions.
For the Azzurri not to be at another World Cup is simply incredible. However, that’s the reality of the situation. Head coach Roberto Mancini has already stated it is too early to talk about his future as Azzurri head coach. However, there will be those asking questions of the former Manchester City’s boss’ ability to turn things around after such failure, less than a year after winning Euro 2020.
North Macedonia deserves massive credit
While the main takeaway from this clash will be Italy’s failure to make another World Cup, North Macedonia deserves massive credit for beating the Azzurri. They defended well and took their chance when it arrived.
Their performance in Palermo will not have come as a massive surprise to anybody who followed them in the group stages. To finish second-place in their group behind Germany was a big achievement.
Their next challenge is now the play-off final against Portugal on Tuesday night. It will be a difficult task to get past a team with such quality players. However, they have already seen off Italy and Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. cannot afford any complacency or they could well be punished, just as the Azzurri were in Palermo.
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