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Italy World Cup angst leaves England with more sorrow than joy

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Italy lost to North Macedonia by failing to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup (AP)

Distress for Italy and this time it’s not Roma after the latest humiliation of a 1-0 World Cup play-off loss at home to North Macedonia. Instinct notwithstanding, some connected to England will have little to celebrate, even if one of the main contenders to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy at Qatar 2022 has been eliminated. Instead, the mind drifts to last summer’s Euro 2020 final defeat and what might have been.

A home final for a first major silver piece since 1966, he ran away against what will forever be known as is Italy. An Italy capable of the spectacular but ultimately deeply flawed after a second successive failure to qualify for the World Cup, interspersed with that fateful night for the Three Lions at Wembley.

And although last night was a shock, there was a nervous tension in Sicily that went on for far too long as the Azzurri faced their inferior opponent. Then the inevitable happened, leaving utter despair on the Italy pitch after Aleksandar Trajkovski’s stoppage-time bolt condemned Roberto Mancini to the most sobering knockdown in recent history.

“Destroyed and crushed,” Giorgio Chiellini commented afterwards. Italian newspaper Tuttosport described the moment as a “Blue Nightmare”, while the Corriere dello Sport headline added “To Hell”.

It had been less than nine months since Italy had spoiled the Wembley party, agony for England after penalties. And if Gareth Southgate and all the spectators didn’t know that the Three Lions had turned down a glorious opportunity, now they do. Italy’s fluctuating form over many years, even if they managed a 37-game unbeaten run, further intensifies England’s regret, though it may also fuel the motivation to seize redemption later this year. His pain should also shed light on Southgate’s ability to break through qualifying, something that has been routinely underestimated.

Roberto Mancini reacts at the end of the 2022 World Cup qualifying play-off football match between Italy and North Macedonia (AFP via Getty Images)

Roberto Mancini reacts at the end of the 2022 World Cup qualifying play-off football match between Italy and North Macedonia (AFP via Getty Images)

Italy’s trend between European Championships and World Cups, without qualifying since Brazil 2014, is peculiar. Missing Russia 2018 was the first time in 60 years. This is World Cup royalty with four wins behind only Brazil’s five. And yet, despite a mostly unspectacular generation of players, the special training of Antonio Conte and Mancini has led to one European Championship and could very well have been two.

However, now without the injured Federico Chiesa, Italy lacked spark and could no longer hide their lack of genuine attacking quality or imagination.

Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire of England show their disappointment after losing on penalties to Italy at Euro 2020 (Getty Images)

Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire of England show their disappointment after losing on penalties to Italy at Euro 2020 (Getty Images)

Chiesa was masterful at last summer’s tournament, but Italy came away with glory through some of their traditional qualities, which many would say are in their DNA. The sheer tenacity of him to compete and not be overwhelmed when England had considerable momentum comes to mind.

That the Azzurri have always had that, married to tactical intelligence and discipline, allowing them to squeeze every ounce of potential out of their team should they qualify for a tournament. After Luke Shaw’s first goal at Wembley, Italy refused to collapse, but still England might have emerged victorious had they not been beaten by a corner, allowing Leonardo Bonucci to react quicker.

Italian midfielder Marco Verratti reacts after the defeat (AFP via Getty Images)

Italian midfielder Marco Verratti reacts after the defeat (AFP via Getty Images)

That will haunt Southgate and company. more so after watching Italy complete what has been a terrible qualifying campaign, illustrating the importance of managing nerves. Italy did it that day, but have shown they can spectacularly lose it just as often, with Jorginho admitting his last-minute missed penalty against Switzerland to advance to the group stage “will haunt me forever”.

So while there was plenty of schadenfreude after North Macedonia’s triumph, with the final play-off against Portugal to decide who advances to the World Cup, the realization of what was lost must light the fire for England in Qatar.

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