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Italy fail to qualify directly for 2022 FIFA WC

Heartbreak for Italy: Azzurri fail to qualify directly for 2022 FIFA WC after Northern Ireland draw

November 15, 2021 By Emmanuel K. Budu-Annor
The European champions were dealt a bad hand in their pursuit for automatic qualification to Qatar 2022.

Italy will have to take the long route to the next World Cup to be held in Qatar as a result of Monday night's  disappointing draw with Northern Ireland. The Azzurri was held to a 0-0 draw in the final game of the campaign and were subsequently made to lose their automatic qualification spot with Switzerland dramatically beating Bulgaria to snatch top-spot in Group G.

Italy's bid to return to the world stage following an eight-year absence was complicated on Friday night after a late penalty miss from Jorginho led to the European champions to draw 1-1 with Switzerland on Friday. With both sides locked on 15 points, the Azzurri remained ahead of the Swiss at the top of Group C on goal difference and needed a win over Northern Ireland to seal their fate.

However, they could not afford a smooth ride out of Belfast as Northern Ireland played their hearts out and kept them at bay despite having nothing significant at stake. In the end, Switzerland's 4-0 victory over Bulgaria proved to be the deciding factor with Noah Okafor, Ruben Vargas, Cedric Itten and Remo Freuler all finding the back of the net to ensure that the Swiss top the group with 18 points. 

In the aftermath of the disappointment against Northern Ireland, head coach Roberto Mancini iterated that his side were more than capable of making it to Qatar and potentially winning the title.

"We can't do anything about it now, we have this game in March and will try to give our best," he told RAI Sport, when asked about the play-offs.

"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."

"Now we prepare for March and we go into the play-offs confident. We'll book our place in the World Cup in March and hopefully win the tournament too."

Italy will compete alongside the likes of Portugal in the European World Cup play-offs in March 2022 to determine their fate. The contest will include 10 group runners-up, as well as the two best group winners from the 2020-21 UEFA Nations League who have not yet qualified or advanced to the playoffs as group runners-up. To qualify for Qatar, three countries would have to advance from a 12-team play-off.

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