Another Shock Failure To Qualify For The World Cup For Italy

I was cautious on Italy’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup as unlike previous editions, this would be played on a knockout basis and Italy would have two knockout matches to navigate. The draw for the first of these knockout matches was favourable as were drawn against North Macedonia, on paper a winnable match. I was confident that given the importance of this match and the quality Italy had, they would have enough to see off the Macedonians. What lay ahead in our path after this match was what worried me as we would likely face the previous European champions, Portugal.

But football, like life can be unpredictable. Italy ended the game with 32 attempts on goal and 16 corners but North Macedonia had the most crucial statistic, the only goal struck in injury time to knock four-times champions, Italy out. For the second World Cup in a row, the mighty Italians with a significant and reputable history in football, a team with prestige and pedigree, a team that only nine months before were riding the high of being Champions of Europe will not contest in the World Cup. Not contesting in the World Cup is unthinkable for the football-mad nation of Italy and its fans all over the world. It was treated with indignity and disdain when they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. That campaign was written off as a pathetic one mismanaged by Giampiero Ventura. In stepped Roberto Mancini with style and swagger, restored Italy’s confidence, got them to play in a modern way and they went on a long unbeaten run that included qualifying for Euro 2020 with 10 wins out of 10 and winning the tournament despite not being favourites at the start of it.

Within nine months to go from a team that was on top of the world to slumping to the depths of hell is remarkable. An improbable statistic is that Italy has only lost 2 matches in 42 matches; one against Spain in the UEFA Nations League and this match against North Macedonia. Since winning the European Championships, Italy has left their scoring boots at home. Although, one would argue that from the semi-finals of the tournament onwards, Italy has not looked efficient or sharp in attack. They were outplayed by Spain in the semi-finals and were lucky to win by a penalty shootout. They dominated England in terms of possession in the final without really creating anything of note. In their first World Cup qualifier after winning the European Championships, they had 27 attempts on goal to Bulgaria’s 4 but yet ended the game with a 1–1 draw. However, the most costly misses were in both games against Switzerland — Jorginho’s missed penalties in both matches ceded advantage to the Swiss as Italy could only draw against their neighbours in both matches.

Italy shouldn’t need the playoffs to qualify but football doesn’t work on ifs and buts. Post-match against North Macedonia, Jorginho said the two penalty misses will haunt him for life and they should. He saw his penalty saved by Yann Sommer in St. Jakob-Park just like Jordan Pickford had done in the European Championships final shootout. In Rome, Domenico Berardi wanted to take the spot-kick but Jorginho took the ball from him to try and redeem himself. Instead, he skied his kick like the legendary Roberto Baggio. You could argue that Italy was unlucky but they needed to make their luck and when the opportunity presents itself, you need to take it. In football, as long as you don’t score, you run a risk of conceding and compromising a result.

In the aftermath of this disaster and devastation, you cannot help feeling that this is a huge blow to the confidence and mental strength of the Italian players. Those still involved in trying to win some silverware for their club either in Italy or abroad, have to bounce back quickly for their club sides. Roberto Mancini might not remain as Italy’s manager after this international week. If Roberto Mancini stays on, he has his work cut out to restore the lost confidence and work on rejuvenating parts of the team as well working to repair the team psychologically. I feel a clean break from Mancini’s era would make the process smoother. Mancini has also paid the price for not refreshing the team to include in the first-team players from outside the squad that won the European Championships.

Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup just exemplifies the fall from grace of Italian football. They might be good enough to challenge at times, they might surprise on other occasions but there is a huge doubt on their mentality in crunch matches. This extends to their club sides as well. The last time an Italian team won the Champions League was in 2010, no Italian team has won the Europa League and it was last won in 1999 when it was known as the UEFA Cup. Italy has not played in the knockout stages of the World Cup since their victorious 2006 campaign. The present Italy squad has age on its side as there are several players still in their 20s but the biggest problem the national team manager would face is in having a bigger pool of players to select from.

Big Italian clubs are reluctant to blood young Italian players choosing instead to send these players out on loan to gain experience before bringing them back or using them as makeweights in transfer deals. It would take a huge collective task for Italian clubs to change their attitude and mentality towards young Italian players. Italian clubs have largely moved away from their traditional catenaccio days and I don’t see any reason why they need to revert to old ways in the national team on the back of this failure. Italy once spoilt for choices in attack, today lack world-class strikers and playmakers which explains the lack of bite in Italy’s attack in recent matches. Gianluca Scamacca, Giacomo Raspadori, Nicolo Zaniolo and the injured Federico Chiesa are promising players for these positions but they too need to further develop themselves to be called world-class. Italian football seems to be in crisis and it needs fixing once for all but come what may, Italian football never dies. It is always capable of being to bounce back when the chips are down, what it needs though is to stay up for longer and not be a yo-yo.




Football/Soccer Lover. Italy. Manchester United. Internazionale. Negri Sembilan. Malaysia.

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Rasvinder Singh

Rasvinder Singh

Football/Soccer Lover. Italy. Manchester United. Internazionale. Negri Sembilan. Malaysia.

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