Italy failed to make it to the FIFA World Cup for the second time in a row after a shock loss to North Macedonia in the playoff semifinal.
The three-time World Cup winner, which – until 2014 – had last missed out on the tournament in 1958, saw its nightmare come true by missing two consecutive world cups.
Last summer was the most beautiful joy, now comes the greatest disappointment.
— Italy coach Roberto Mancini after the defeat
In 2017, a loss to Sweden ended Italy’s hopes to play in the World Cup. This time, Roberto Mancini’s side finished second in its group (Group C) with four wins and as many draws in its qualifying campaign.
The turning point in its group-stage play came against Switzerland – the group topper – when Jorginho (of Italy) missed a penalty in the 90th minute, dropping two points and finally leaving the Swiss on top of the group in the end.
Forced into the play-offs, Italy played North Macedonia – which had finished second in Group J – in the playoff. Despite a 0-0 draw till the 90th minute, a second-half injury-time stunner by Aleksandar Trajkovski saw Italy get eliminated from the race to Qatar and its players in tears.
The loss came as a contrasting fate for the Azzurris, who had won the European Championship just months before the loss.
“It’s hard to say something right now – I don’t know what to say,” Mancini said, after the match.
“Last summer was the most beautiful joy, now comes the greatest disappointment. It is not easy to think of other things. I am very sorry for the boys: I love them much more tonight than in July. I am the coach, I am the first responsible, the boys are not. They have a great future, they are strong players for the future of the national team. We did not deserve this defeat.”
North Macedonia met Portugal in the playoff final, where a brace by Bruno Fernandes saw Portugal make it to the World Cup. It is drawn in Group H, alongside, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea.