Coach Roberto Mancini’s men had countries like Lithuania, Bulgaria, North Ireland, and Switzerland to battle with for Group C’s top spot but failed to prove their dominance over them.
To the dismay of many who thought the group would be a walkover for Italy, the European champions managed to win only four matches out of 8 and drew the remaining 4 games.
It was clear that it might be difficult for Italy to win Group C when they drew with Bulgaria at home and also draw against their main contenders Switzerland.
However, they had the chance to turn things around in their favor on Monday, November 15, when they visited Northern Ireland. Unfortunately for Mancini’s men, they could not win the game. The game ended in a goalless draw.
To make matters worst for Italy, Switzerland beat Bulgaria 4-0 to seal a top spot finish with 18 points in 8 games, two points above second-placed Italy.
If the reigning European champions had managed to beat Northern Ireland by any goal margin, Italy would have won the group with 19 points, a point above Switzerland.
Recall that the Azzurri went into the all-important World Cup qualification match without three of their best players – Spinazzola, Verratti, Chiellini, Immobile due to fitness issues but that didn’t stop Italy from dominating the game.
As it stands, Italy are condemned
to play a single-elimination semifinal, followed by a single-elimination playoff final to stand a chance of making it to Qatar. The two play-off matches will take place between March 24 and 29, 2022.
Recall that Italy found itself in the same situation ahead of the 2018 Russia World Cup. They failed to get an automatic ticket and had to rely on playoffs to get to Russia. Unfortunately for them, they were eliminated by Sweden.
Even though the Azzurri are yet to know the countries they might face in the play-offs in March, the coach of the side, Mancini is confident that his team would make it to Qatar after the playoffs.
He is not just confident that his team would qualify for the prestigious football tournament, he believes that his team has all it takes to return to Italy with the trophy.
“We will make it to the World Cup in March and then maybe we will even win it. I am totally confident,” Mancini said after the 0-0 draw over Northern Ireland on Monday.
“Despite controlling matches, we’re struggling to score goals at the moment. We needed to score early on tonight. It’s a shame because we should have finished things off sooner in this group.
“We need to rediscover what has set us apart until now and remain completely calm until March.
“We should have won against Bulgaria and had two penalties against Switzerland. These are games that could have finished in our favor. I’m completely confident about the play-offs.”
Italy is going to the World Cup playoff 🤯— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 15, 2021
Switzerland has qualified! 🇨🇭 pic.twitter.com/tAAvQrojVV