Eight months after winning the European Championship and being feted as national heroes, Italy’s football team crashed back to earth, missing out on the World Cup for the second time running.
Italy lost 1-0 at home to little-fancied North Macedonia who scored the winner in injury time on Thursday.
North Macedonia stunned European Champions Italy in the dying minutes to set up a clash against Portugal in the World Cup qualifying finals. The four-time World Champions failed to qualify for the tournament in Russia after being knocked out by Sweden in the play-offs.
And Aleksandar Trajkovski ensured the Italians would be watching the 2022 World Cup from their homes after his fantastic finish in the 93rd minute. The Macedonia No.9 broke past the Italian defense to fire a wonderful effort past Gianluigi Donnarumma from 25 yards out.
The Italians had 31 shots on goal but could not find the back of the net. They will travel to face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the final, who overcame Turkey after a late scare.
It was a shock repeat of four years ago, when Italy failed to reach football’s global showpiece tournament for the first time since 1958.
But after the team’s victory in the European final against England last July, few people believed a repeat calamity was looming.
“Out of the world” was La Gazzetta dello Sport’s, the major sports newspaper in Italy, headline on Friday morning.
“Taking Roberto Mancini [team manager] to trial is a mistake. It’s the entire football system that needs to be rebuilt,” said an opinion piece in the newspaper.
Media reports suggest Mancini, who was hailed as Italy’s saviour after taking the side from World Cup omission to Euros glory, will probably leave.
“Let’s see,” said Mancini. “The disappointment is too big at present to talk about the future. I just don’t know what to say.”
Most of the big-name players, including the 2006 World Cup winners, remained silent and it was hard to find posts or comments on social media from the current players.
Corriere dello Sport and Tuttosport respectively had “To Hell” and “Noooooooooo” as headlines, with numerous articles of why the team lost the match and how the team’s performance got worse after the final in London last summer.
A shell-shocked Giorgio Chiellini expressed his “great disappointment” about the Azzurri’s exit, but stated he wants Mancini to remain in his post. “There is great disappointment. We played a good game, we missed the goal,” Chiellini said.. “I’m proud of my teammates. We are destroyed. I hope the future is still with Mr. Mancini.”
“I’m more than disappointed, I’ve nothing to say,” Mancini said after the match.
Something incredible happened tonight. We deserved to win the Euros, now we’ve been really unlucky… but that’s it, that’s the reality. I’m sorry for the players”