Disbelief & Shock in Italy Changing Room After Qatar World Cup Qualification Horror
10:06 GMT 25.03.2022 (Updated: 10:59 GMT 05.03.2023)
© AP Photo / Antonio CalanniItaly's Jorginho, right, cries as his teammate walks after their team's got eliminated in the World Cup qualifying play-offsoccer match between Italy and North Macedonia, at Renzo Barbera stadium, in Palermo, Italy, Thursday, March 24, 2022
© AP Photo / Antonio Calanni
Life has come full circle for the Italian football team. From being crowned European champions in July to creating a new world record for the longest winning streak in the sport in October to missing out on a World Cup spot in March this year - Roberto Mancini's team has seen it all. However, it was the manner of their loss that's haunting them.
Disappointment, disbelief and shock are the major themes in the Italian changing room after Roberto Mancini's side failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup scheduled to be held in Qatar in November and December later this year.
In their play-off game against North Macedonia on Thursday, Italy looked in control of the proceedings, dominating the contest almost until the very end and had multiple opportunities to seal a win, but couldn't cross the final hurdle.
Eventually the Euro 2020 winners paid the price of not grabbing their chances as Macedonian forward Aleksandar Trajkovski's 92nd minute strike not only secured a 1-0 victory for his team, but also ensured that Italy would not make it to the World Cup for the second successive time.
With their dream of lifting the World Cup trophy dashed, Azzurri midfielder Jorginho blamed himself for his team's heartbreak.
"We played good football, we won the European Championship last summer. But unfortunately in the last few games we made small errors and were unable to recover from them. They made the difference," a gutted Jorginho told RAI Sport after the match. "It hurts when I think about it, because I do still think about it and it will haunt me for the rest of my life. Stepping up there twice and not being able to help your team and your country is something that I will carry with me forever, and it weighs on me".
On the other hand, captain Giorgio Chiellini said the Italians were feeling like they had been "destroyed" by the Macedonians.
"I am proud of this team, it is obvious that we are disappointed and destroyed. We have to start again," the Juventus defender said. "A large void is now within us and we hope it can give us the strength to go forward in future. I hope it will still be with this coach, who has given so much to the Nazionale".
Meanwhile, manager Roberto Mancini claimed that "fate" had played its part in their World Cup play-off defeat. He even called the loss the "biggest disappointment" of his career.
"Just as the Euros was the most wonderful experience of my life, this was the biggest disappointment," he said. "We can say nothing, that is football, sometimes incredible things happen and it happened."
Mancini insisted that the European champions were just unfortunate to not qualify for the quadrennial event because they could have topped Group C.
Instead it was Switzerland that found itself in pole position after Jorginho missed a penalty each in a goalless draw between the two sides in September and in a 1-1 stalemate in November.
"We shouldn't have been here in the first place, but we did everything we could to win and it's hard to even talk about it," Mancini explained. "The victory at the Euros was absolutely deserved, we played great football. Then some of the fortune we had in that tournament turned into total and complete bad luck, as some unbelievable things happened from September onwards".
Italy has not been to a World Cup since 2014 when the most prestigious football tournament was held in Brazil.
Well before their 2022 shocker, the Italians had felt the pain in Russia 2018 too. At that time, the Azzurri were beaten 1-0 by Sweden in the first leg of the play-off followed by a 0-0 stalemate in the second.