As unthinkable as it may have seemed a few months ago, Italy could well be a shock absentee from the 2022 World Cup.
The team who lifted the European Championship less than a year ago, while in the middle of a record-breaking 37-match unbeaten run, somehow now find themselves on the brink of disaster having failed to top their qualifying group for Qatar.
The Azzurri finished second behind Switzerland following draws home and away against their Group C rivals as well as another shock 0-0 against Northern Ireland in their final game.
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Italy have been left to rue a 90th minute penalty miss against the Swiss in Rome by the usually reliable Jorginho – who bizarrely also missed a spot kick in the stalemate against the same opponents in Basel earlier in the campaign.
Roberto Mancini’s side now going into the playoff round to first face North Macedonia and, should they progress, a showdown against either Turkey or Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
Despite last summer’s success, since winning the World Cup in 2006, Italy suffered group stage exits in 2010 and 2014, and humiliatingly failed to even make it to the 2018 finals in Russia.
Running the risk of missing out on back-to-back World Cups for the first time in their history, Eurosport Italy’s Simone Eterno looks at what is going wrong in the camp ahead of the crunch meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo.

How worried are Italy about the possibility of missing another World Cup?

A LOT! By Italy, I mean all the Italians. The national team themselves? We don't really know. What we do know is that Mancini is acting very confident, saying for weeks not only that we're going to the World Cup, but that we go there to win it. He said the same thing last summer with the Euros. It worked then, so let's hope it will work again, but the truth is that there are A LOT of things to be worried about.

After winning the Euros and the long unbeaten run, what, if anything, has gone wrong to bring us to this point?

Two penalties! Actually, just two penalties. Italy had the chance in both games in the group against Switzerland to win the match: Jorginho (10 out of 10 in 2021 with Chelsea) incredibly missed in both games!
There was nothing else to complain about with Italy's run in the group. If he had scored even just one of those two, Italy would have been already in Qatar. But he has missed and now the whole situation isn’t looking good.

What is Mancini's masterplan in these playoffs to get Italy back on track?

We don't know. Because there are certain things to face, like the reality that 75% of the team that won the Euros are in terrible form - or even worse, are not even available.
The fact is that he must come up with something, but at the same time, there is no time and there's no space to take this risk. It's a very tricky situation.

Are there any concerns over the form of players in the team?

Again, a LOOOOT! Let's start with the goalie, Gianluigi Donnarumma. In Paris, he's been living a nightmare. Against Real Madrid in the Champions League, his mistake turned the game. The fact is, the best player of Euro 2020 is lacking in confidence and going to PSG has not been a good idea. At least not so far.
In defence, Giovanni Di Lorenzo was injured just last week during the second half of Napoli-Udinese. Unlucky. [Leonardo] Bonucci and [Georgio] Chiellini are coming in without playing much, having spent more time in the physio room than on the pitch so far this season. Spinazzola is still out after his injury at the Euros.
In midfield, [Nicolo] Barella is out of form. He basically hasn’t stopped playing for two years, and now he is struggling to find the same level of the past. Jorginho will be playing with the burden of the two penalties missed that bring us to this point.
Attack-wise, [Federico] Chiesa, Italy’s best player, tore his ligament in his knee. Should we go on? The fact is that the only Italian players coming with confidence to this point are Domenico Berardi and Gianluca Scamacca. Italy are basically asking Sassuolo to take them to the World Cup...

Goalkeeper of PSG Gianluigi Donnarumma looks on while Wissam Ben Yedder of Monaco and teammates celebrate their goal during the Ligue 1 Uber Eats match between AS Monaco (ASM) and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) at Stade Louis II on March 20, 2022 in Monaco

Image credit: Getty Images

Was there anyone who missed out on selection who perhaps should have been called up?

No. He called up 33 players. 33! He basically called anyone possible. Probably the only one is AC Milan right-back Davide Calabria. He's playing well, but Mancini doesn’t fancy him, it's pretty clear. Anyway, Calabria is not that type of player that can change a game by himself.

How much of a threat is North Macendonia? Elif Elmas is obviously well-known in Italy. Are there any other concerns?

Elmas is suspended. So that's a good news. North Macedonia are a tricky team, probably not known so much around Europe, but they showed some good stuff. It is a team that doesn’t concede much, for example.
But then, if you don't beat North Macedonia, you don't deserve to go to the World Cup. The problem probably won't be there, but facing Portugal, in Portugal, if both Italy and Portugal do what they need to do against North Macedonia and Turkey.

If the unthinkable should happen, what does that mean for Mancini?

I don't know, really. He still has enough credit in my opinion, especially after what he did in the summer. But knowing how this country can react... Another World Cup missed? It will be tough even for him to face the situation. Italians have no memory, so they won't remember that it was down to just two damned penalties...
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