Italy Misses World Cup Again After Shocking Defeat by North Macedonia in Qualifying Playoffs

© REUTERS / GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANEItaly's Domenico Berardi reacts
Italy's Domenico Berardi reacts - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.03.2022
The Italian national team became the European champion for the second time in July 2021, and the Italians won four times at the world championships. In the qualifying tournament, the team of Roberto Mancini took second place in Group C.
The Italians lost to the North Macedonia national team 0:1 on Thursday in the semifinals of the play-off mini-tournament for the right to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, effectively missing the world championship for the second time in a row.
The Azzurri were defeated thanks to a last-gasp goal by North Macedonia's Aleksandar Trajkovski. After a thoroughly dominant performance by Italy, Trajkovski scored with a shot from outside the box, which was North Macedonia's only serious chance after the Macedonians missed a number of chances and had several more saved by goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski.
Much like five years ago, Italy's players slumped to the ground in astonishment and disappointment after the final whistle, with several of them crying, as the other team celebrated enthusiastically.
After losing to Sweden in a two-legged playoff in November 2017, Italy also failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Missing two World Cups in a row is an all-time low for the four-time champion, particularly so soon after winning Euro 2020.
The captain for the Italian team, Giorgio Chiellini, described the unexpected turnout as an event that will leave "a great hole" in the whole team.

"I'm proud of my teammates, we are all destroyed and broken but we have to start again,'' Chiellini said, adding, "At the moment it's difficult to talk about it, it will remain a great hole. I hope that the coach will stay because he is essential for this team. Now we have to return to winning, go to the Euros and in four years time return to this blessed World Cup."

Team manager Roberto Mancini stated after the defeat that "the victory in the Euros was the most wonderful moment of my career. What happened this evening is my biggest disappointment."
"There's too much disappointment to talk about the future right now. I really feel for the players. On a human level, my affection for them has grown even more after this evening," he added.
Football spectators, no less stunned by the outcome of the match, posted memes about the defeat of seemingly everyone's favorites.
After Cristiano Ronaldo's team defeated Turkey 3-1, North Macedonia will face Portugal on Tuesday for a place in the tournament in Qatar. North Macedonia has qualified for only one major tournament, and it was Euro 2020.
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