Bewilderment, tears, whistles: 256 days after winning the European Championship at Wembley, Italy has been ripped from all its World Cup dreams. “Just as EM was the best experience of my life, this was the biggest disappointment. We can’t say anything, this is football. Sometimes incredible things happen and they did,” said national coach Roberto Mancini after the sensational 0-1 ( 0-0) against outsiders North Macedonia on Thursday in the playoff semifinals.
As in 2018, when the Squadra Azzurra lost to Sweden in the playoffs, the final will take place without the four-time world champions. “Italy disaster”, the “Gazzetta dello Sport” rightly wrote on its home page. A goal by Aleksandar Trajkovski (minute 90 +2) destroyed all hopes of the Italians for the ticket to the World Cup in Palermo in added time.
The Italian stars fell to the ground in horror at the final whistle. “We are disappointed, broken, devastated,” veteran Giorgio Chiellini said. EM hero Jorginho added: “It’s hard to explain what happened. It hurts a lot. I’ll be honest, I’m still in disbelief.”
It was Jorginho who missed a penalty in each of the two draws against Switzerland in the group stage, helping them qualify for the playoffs. “It hurts when I think about it. It will haunt me for the rest of my life. Competing twice and not being able to help your team and your country is something I will carry with me forever.”
And now? Such a shameful outcry in Italy often has consequences. Mancini did not want to talk about his possible departure shortly after the match. “We’ll see, the disappointment is too big to talk about the future,” the coach said Thursday night when asked. “It’s hard to think about things like that. It won’t be easy in the next few days.”
North Macedonia continues to Portugal
Mancini has a contract as national coach until 2026. The association’s head, Gabriele Gravina, spoke in favor of continuing the cooperation with the former professional the night after the bankruptcy: “I wish Mancini would stay with us. We’ve committed to a project.” Captain Giorgio Chiellini also said: “We have to get up now and I hope Mancini stays.” However, he would not say Thursday night whether the 37-year-old defensive veteran would still be in the own national team.
For North Macedonia, on the other hand, it goes to Portugal. There, the foreigner, who had already beaten Germany 2-1 in Duisburg in the group stage, will face Cristiano Ronaldo and company on Tuesday for the ticket to the World Cup. (dpa)