Italy’s head coach Roberto Mancini says the European champions had 2022 World Cup qualification in their hands but threw it away after dropping into the play-offs on Monday night.
The Azzurri knew they had to beat Northern Ireland in Belfast and hope Switzerland don’t defeat Bulgaria with a wide CmaTrends margin.
But a 0-0 draw at Windsor Park and the Swiss 4-0 domination made it a clear-cut case.
“I am disappointed,” said Mancini in his press conference in Belfast, where no opponent was able to score in this World Cup qualifying group.
Northern Ireland end the campaign with a 1-0 win over Lithuania and three 0-0 draws in their home stadium.
Ultimately, qualification was lost during the two draws with Switzerland, in which Jorginho failed to convert two penalties.
“We made life complicated for ourselves and qualification should’ve been sealed at least two games ago. We had the chances and didn’t take them, now we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground, because there is still the possibility of qualifying for the World Cup.”
Just four months after impressing everyone by winning UEFA EURO 2020 and setting a new all-time world unbeaten run record of 37 games, Mancini finds himself dealing with a depressed Italy.
“I continue to believe that we are a great team. This is a difficult moment, we threw away qualification that we had in our hands.
“We’ve got to rediscover our calm for March and continue playing, because we were up against a Northern Ireland team that only defended.
“It will be different in March, these are knockout fixtures, and so there will be far more opportunities to play and win.”
The route to the 2022 World Cup is far more complicated than in 2018, as only three of the 12 teams entering the play-offs will get a ticket to the tournament.
There is a seeded draw, then a semi-final and final.
“I believe we will go to the World Cup, as we have two games to play and will be sure to do it right.”