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Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup 2022 for the second year in a row. What went wrong with the Azzurri after winning Euro 2020?
Nine active Italian team members have been injured by failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup - the second time the Azzurri have lost in the final. With the play-off against North Macedonia approaching, manager Roberto Mancini did not consider the possibility of a third qualifying defeat.
He had little reason to do so, especially after winning the European Championship against England. The quality of football before and during the game is astounding, smooth, and free-flowing. Italy and Spain have scored the most goals at Euro 2020 (13), with Italy having the most shots (128), solid defense, most tackles (99), and recoveries (291).
But that seems like a long time ago, as Palermo's kickoff looms. Gone were the attacking verve, high pressure, and a ton of goals, replaced by terrible goal transitions and a lack of thought in midfield. Going from being a title favorite to lifting a trophy in Qatar and even advancing to the playoffs has sparked pessimism, and rightly so.
Ultimately, it looks like one of Italy or Portugal will qualify for the play-offs. Shamefully, however, the Azzurri did not reach the play-off final. Aleksandar Trajkovski, who used to play club football in Sicily, scored the winner in the 92nd minute enough for North Macedonia to progress.
If venue and semantics matter, Palermo is the last venue for Italy to play in front of spectators. On that occasion, in November 2019, they beat Armenia 9-1. But look at Trajkovsky's goal in Palermo, he seems more at home than the Italian national team!
The question on everyone's mind is "Why is Italy not eligible"?
Since beating England in the Euro 2020 final, Italy has won just two – over Lithuania (5-0) and Belgium (2-1). Other results highlighted the decline in form and quality: 1-1 against Bulgaria, 0-0 against Switzerland, 1-2 against Spain, 1-1 against Switzerland, and 0-0 against Northern Ireland.
Had it not been for Leonardo Bonucci's last-minute goal-line clearance, that goalless draw at Windsor Park would have likely been a failure. The stalemate meant Italy had to take the harder road, missing out on automatic qualifying.
Spain's defeat in the Nations League semi-finals meant Italy had only lost once in 41 games before facing North Macedonia. Coach Mancini created a new unbeaten record and made a long winning streak in a row. But goals are drying up as opportunities continue to beg.
Asked before the play-offs why Italy dropped out after the Euros, Mancini said: "We have been trying to play our football well. The only thing is that when you prepare for the Euros or the World Cup, you have time to do it. Intensive training. When you play mid-season, we don't have that luxury."
The megalomania of Italy's early play under Mancini had become dull. The style has dried up - just like the goal. One of the reasons behind this is Leonardo Spinazzola's long-term injury.
The European quarter-final victory over Belgium was their 13th consecutive victory, dating back to November, during which time they have scored 36 goals and conceded just twice.
Between then and the disaster in Palermo, they have drawn six draws in nine games, with five of their 13 goals coming from one of their two victories against Lithuania.
Against Bulgaria, Italy had 26 shots. Against North Macedonia, they had 32 shots on target and only 5 on target. Jorginho had previously missed two penalties against Switzerland - mistakes he believes "will haunt him for the rest of his life". "It weighs heavily to stand there twice and not be able to help your team and your country, and that's something I'll always carry with me. People say we need to keep our heads up and move on, but it's tough," He told local broadcaster RAI Sport in tears.
After that, a predictable blame game begins. Italian Football Federation president Gabriel Gravina insisted he would not resign and backed Mancini to continue in charge.
"It turned out to be unfair and the Mancini project will go ahead, like mine. I have to protect the lads and the Commonwealth. There are definitely mistakes, but we have to understand if there are short-term problems, or if radical changes are needed." Gravi Na said.
Bonucci also expressed his support for Mancini. "For us, it's the logical thing to continue coaching: his ideas, his human values are unquestionable. The result of a game can change perceptions, but someone who lives like this every day just wants to continue this road."
Many have accused the league of refusing to postpone games to give national players more time to prepare for the play-offs.
"Failure to qualify for the World Cup is a huge failure for Italian football and everyone should think about it, leading to a fundamental change in our system," said League President Lorenzo Cassini.
Meanwhile, Mancini said he was "too disappointed" to make any decisions about his future. Italian media report Fabio Cannavaro and Carlo Ancelotti as potential successors.
After having time to discuss things, Mancini confirmed he would stay. "We need to start over," Mancini said. "I've spoken to the president and we've agreed on everything ... we'll have time to discuss where we need to improve."
"I'm still young and I want to win the European Championship and the World Cup and we're going to have to wait for a second. I love the job and I know with the players we can organize something important again. Everything but disappointment It's all moving forward," said the former Manchester City and Inter Milan boss, who is under contract until 2026.
In a way, Mancini is guilty of being too loyal to certain players instead of being meritocratic. The ill-timed Lorenzo Ingisgne and Nicolo Barella are key figures on that list.
Starting Giacomo Raspadori or Lorenzo Pellegrini, or calling on Davide Frattesi would be ideal.
Giorgio Chiellini, 37, is expected to be in tears as he bids farewell to the Savoy Blues, describing himself as "tired". Jorginho was distraught and was allowed to leave the Italian camp after the defeat. The same goes for Insigne, Ciro Immobile, Marco Verratti, Gianluca Mancini and Domenico Berardi.
In hindsight, there were more "what ifs" to the World Cup qualifiers and Italy would have been looking for tickets to Doha. What if Spinazzola is available? What if Alessandro Florenzi didn't make a mistake against Bulgaria? What if Berardi got a guilty chance in Switzerland? Then again, what if Berardi had been more decisive against North Macedonia?
More: How World Cup 2022 will be different from previous ones ever?
bestsoccerstore /June 11, 2022
3:0 big win! Italy became the first team to advance to the round of 16!